Kevin McSports

NCAA’s: Friars strangle Jackrabbits, Spiders up next

NCAA’s: Friars strangle Jackrabbits, Spiders up next

Noah Horchler gets set to score over South Dakota State in NCAA Tournament win


BUFFALO – What a relief.

That’s the overwhelming feeling in my mind as the Providence College Friars finished putting clamps on the high-scoring, dangerous South Dakota State Jackrabbits. PC moves on in this NCAA Tournament and will play Richmond (surprise!) on Saturday at KeyBank Center.

This was a relief for so many reasons. First, if this is what a four seed gets for a NCAA door prize, make me a three seed. South Dakota (31-5) had won 21 straight games and featured an high octane offense built on cutting, ball movement and the best 3-point accuracy in the country. That’s a 13 seed?

So when the Jackrabbits came flying out of the gates and pushed the Friars back on their heels with an 11-7 start, it was downright scary if you follow the Friars. The Jackrabbits were poised, polished and sharp and the pace was exactly what star Baylor Scheierman liked. He did whatever he wanted, namely toss two nice alley-oop passes for dunks by Douglas Wilson.

The Friars kept going at them, however, and a 3-pointer by Justin Minaya and strong take by Al Durham settled things down. So did two timeouts and NCAA tourney timeouts can be extra long and when the teams returtned to the floor, the Friars were ready. The game changed with a few key subs as Ed Croswell & Co. entered the lineup.

With Croswell cleaning up off the boards, the Friars took control by slowing the pace and being ultra-physical. That slowed SDSU’s attack into a 1-of-9 skid as the Friars grabbed a 24-19 lead. PC’s lead peaked at 31-23 late in the first half and set up a chance to nail down a final defensive stop. When they checked that box, the Friars took that 8-point lead into halftime.

The halftime stats told the story. South Dakota State shot just 37 percent and managed only two 3-pointers on eight tries. Those are not Jackrabbit numbers.

The second half saw more of the same. The Friars kept up the defensive effort but the Jackrabbits would not fade away. They hit too many clutch threes with Scheierman (18 points, 10 rebounds) nailing one from Toronto and Alex Arians (13 points) also hurting the Friars.

PC led 56-47 with 4:52 left after a gorgeous A.J. Reeves feed to Nate Watson but SDSU charged to the finish. Before you knew it the Friars lead was just 60-57 with 59 seconds left on the clock. The Friars neared the end of a possession when Durham passed back to Jared Bynum and he lofted an errant three as Wilson charged into him for a huge, huge foul call.

Jared Bynum fires from deep in win over South Dakota St. (Photo: PC Athletics)

Bynum hit his three free throws, becoming this game’s Mr. Clutch, and the Friars were home free.

“The last media timeout, we were as confident as we’ve ever been. We can make threes. We can put some points on the board, and we hadn’t gone on a run yet that we normally do,” said SDSU coach Eric Henderson. “And then obviously, we got it down to that single possession game and couldn’t get a stop, and then obviously, we fouled, I guess, on that three-point shot. That was a back breaker.”

The defensive effort the Friars put forth was a sterling one. They held the Jackrabbits nearly 30 points below their average and allowed a mere seven threes on 30 percent shooting from downtown. It was a Defensive Picasso.

“Our physicality, our physicality getting to the rim and our physicality on defense were big,” said Al Durham. “We wanted to be real physical and run them off the three-point line, make sure we were defending. You know, get up in them, and we were physical at offense. We wanted to play at the rim and in transition. We wanted to play getting downhill. We executed our game plan and came out with a win.”

So back to the lead. This win was a relief. The Friars could not afford a loss in this game, not when America was picking against PC in its office pools, not when the Jackrabbits loomed as the ultimate Bracket Buster.

It was also a big, big game for Ed Cooley. For all the good he has injected into this program, all the pelts he’s hung on the wall, the looming black mark on his resume is NCAA Tourney success. Well now he has two wins in six trips and with Richmond knocking off Iowa, the Friars will be favored to make a Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 25 years.

Roll that around on your tongue Friar fans.



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