David Duke drives past Tyrese Martin in Wednesday’s Big East game. (Photo: Stew Milne)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
The Providence Friars needed a resumption of a long-time New England rivalry to snap a painful losing skid.
PC’s defense and rebounding improved markedly and took advantage of some rocky shooting by Connecticut in a 70-59 victory at Alumni Hall Wednesday. The win snaps a 3-game losing streak and pushes the Friars’ record to 10-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big East.
Nate Watson led the Friars with 17 points. David Duke, A.J. Reeves and Noah Horchler all played 36 or more minutes and stabilized the attack. Duke came into the game just 7 of his last 27 and with 20 points in the previous three games. He made 5-of-14 shots and finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
PC was the more aggressive team all day. The Friars won the rebound battle and outscored UConn at the foul line, 18-5.
“Right now it’s do or die,” said PC’s Horchler. “I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable now. It feels great.”
Providence appeared to control much of the opening half but UConn rallied late and held a 34-33 lead at the break. The Friars led 13-8 but UConn responded with eight in a row. PC countered with 3-pointers by Duke, Kris Monroe and A.J. Reeves for a 24-18 lead but the Huskies ripped off nine unanswered with guard R.J. Cole getting three hoops.
Finally PC grabbed the lead again with Duke getting out for a big slam and Reeves nailing a 3-pointer for a 31-27 lead. But yet again UConn pushed back. This time Tyler Polley hit a 3-pointer out of a timeout and when Josh Carlton took advantage of shaky PC ball screen defense for an easy slip layup, the Huskies were up, 34-33.
The second half started great for the Friars and for Duke. The junior guard threw in seven quick points from all corners of the court to lead PC to a short lead. The Friars kept rolling with Horchler draining a 3-pointer, Watson scoring twice and the home team building a 55-44 lead to cap off an 11-2 run.
Just when it seemed as if UConn was falling out of the game, Connecticut regrouped. The Huskies closed to 55-49 but PC came back and gained a 58-49 lead with 6:20 left. The Friars had multiple chances to push the lead higher but instead the Huskies scratched and clawed and cut it to 58-53 after a Reeves turnover.
The Friars settled down, however. A key hook inside by Watson, two free throws from Reeves and a nicely designed set that freed Breed inside put PC back in control. A breed free throw with 1:04 left kept PC up, 65-55.
UConn managed just 25 points in the second half on 36 percent shooting. Those were numbers that left Husky coach Dan Hurley shaking his head in dismay.
“We get in the paint (on offense) and either couldn’t finish or didn’t deliver,” Hurley said. “Probably the most confidence we have now is to throw it into (freshman) Adama (Sanogo).”
UConn star guard James Bouknight (elbow) did not play. He is day-to-day and could be in the lineup when PC plays at UConn (8-5, 5-5) next Tuesday.
David Duke – 15points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals
Nate Watson – 17 points, 6 rebounds
Adama Sanogo – 9 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks
**Noah Horchler let slip that Jimmy Nichols (illness) is likely out for the season. Nichols has sustained an eye injury, but when Cooley was asked for an update on the redshirt junior forward he said, “the doctors don’t think it’s going to be feasible for him to come back. He may be done for the year, but I’ll let you know.”
**The Friars will play at DePaul on Saturday night but have only five games remaining in the regular season. They’ll play UConn once again next Tuesday night in Storrs.
**Here are some of Cooley’s post-game comments.