Al Durham played a starring role yet again for the Friars in 99-92 win over Xavier (Photo: Steve Klamkin)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
PROVIDENCE – After bushels of tough plays, clutch shots and too many mistakes to count, how do you sum up the longest Big East game in Providence College basketball history?
It’s a win, and a very big one.
The Friars, pushed, pressed and nearly beaten numerous times by the Xavier Musketeers, dug deep and somehow survived Wednesday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in a 99-92 triple overtime thriller. Again, we can get into the ups and downs, the highs and lows, but the bottom line is the No. 11 Friars won for the 23rd time in 26 games and set a new program record with a 13th Big East win.
Now 13-2 with two games to play, the Friars can clinch a first-ever Big East regular season title with a win on Senior Night against Creighton Saturday.
The Friars put six players in double figures and they needed them all to knock out Xavier (17-10, 7-9). The Musketeers owned chances at a win at the end of regulation and the first overtime but could not deliver. “That’s what we drew up. We’ll live with the result,” said Xavier coach Travis Steele.
The Friars dug deep and stopped those chances with defensive stands to remember. Al Durham, The Closer himself, tied the game with 23 seconds left in regulation for his clear highlight of the night. Durham is still slowed by a hernia and struggled to 13 points, 6 assists, 6 turnovers and 3-of-12 shooting.
The Friars fell into huge trouble in the first overtime with Xavier scoring the first five points. Yet at 75-70 with 2:15 left, the visitors never scored again. PC’s Jared Bynum – Superman with 13 of his 27 points in the overtime periods – snuck inside for a layup and got fouled. Justin Minaya (12 points) tipped in a miss at the rim to tie it with 1:19 left.
That would be it for scoring as both teams couldn’t crack each other’s defense. PC got the final stop as Durham blocked a drive by Colby Jones.
The second overtime was filled with errors, by both teams. Providence’s Bynum scored the first two buckets to go up 79-75 but then made a series of awful, bone-headed plays that opened the door to a comeback.
Xavier took advantage with Scruggs offensive rebounding a missed free throw and scoring. Then a game-long issue with inbounding the ball under pressure bit hard when Minaya threw the ball away and Xavier tied it on two free throws by Paul Scruggs. Durham fouled out and Alyn Breed came on to help save the ship and, sure enough, the sophomore delivered.
Breed sank free throws to give PC a 86-83 lead with 12 seconds left. Scruggs was fouled on purpose by Minaya to deny a tying shot and he made two freebies. When Nate Watson and Breed could only hit one of two apiece (the Friars missed10 free throws on the night), Xavier inbounded down 88-85 with 6.6 on the clock. Scruggs raced up the sideline and while Minaya lunged at him to foul once again, he couldn’t grab him. Scruggs toed the 3-point line and drained it at the buzzer to force a third O.T.
Instead of wallowing in the mire after letting a win slip away, the Friars sewed things up in the third extra session. This time it was defense that sealed the deal. PC broke a 92-92 tie with Nate Watson scoring inside and after a missed three by Adam Kunkel ((team-high 20 points), Bynum finally drained one of the clutch, 30-foot rainbows that the little guy has seemingly been uncorking for weeks.
That 97-92 lead stood up from there as Xavier finally ran out of gas.
The final minutes of regulation were marred by a 15-minute halt in the action. With Xavier leading 66-63 and 2:47 on the clock, the game was halted as water was spotted near both free throw circles. Towels were brought out and used extensively but the water continued to fall and was spotted coming from the roof. It was determined the the Dunk’s roof was safe, but leaky. Additional fans were turned on in the rafters and that seemed to alleviate the problem.
The teams tried to stay loose during the break and once play resumed the Friars benefitted. A.J. Reeves hit a very tough 3-pointer to tie the game and then Durham made one of two from the free throw line to give the Friars a 67-66 lead with 2:05 on the clock.
Two minutes later the game hit the first overtime and while the towel boys remained active, the game was not halted again. WPRO’s Gene Valicenti interviewed Dunk general manager Larry Lepore on his radio show Thursday morning.