Nate Watson set his career-high with 29 points at Creighton (Photo: PC Athletics)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
This time the crazy, unpredictable Big East bounces went Providence’s way.
After controlling the game virtually tip-to-tip, the Friars found themselves leading by just two points with a minute to play Wednesday night at Creighton. But when crazy plays started happening, the Friars were left smiling and pulled off a critical 74-70 victory.
David Duke hit an off-balance, lucky 3-pointer off the glass with 28 seconds left for some breathing room, a shot that teammate Nate Watson called “a lucky shot but we needed it!”
After a critical defensive stop, Watson (career-high 29 points) swished two free throws and made it 72-65 with 20 seconds left but this one wasn’t over.
Two Bluejay free throws and an off-balance, lucky 3-pointer by Marcus Zegarowski drew the home team to within 72-70 with five seconds left. Duke was fouled two seconds later but he made both shots to lock up the win.
PC (8-6, 4-4) will play at No. 3 Villanova Saturday. Creighton, which is ranked 11th this week, lost its second straight game and fell to 10-4 and 6-3 in the Big East.
Early on the Friars got a season-best half from freshman Alyn Breed, who started once again in place of Jared Bynum (groin injury). Breed hit a 3-pointer early on as the PC offense ripped its way out to an 8-of-12 shooting start.
PC’s lead peaked at 23-6 at the 11:50 mark. Watson and Jimmy Nichols combined for 16 of the 23 but that’s when Creighton finally woke up. An ugly 1-of-12 shooting start (0-6 from 3) ended and with a bang. Sparked by Damien Jefferson (14 points in the half) and Zegarowski (12), the Bluejays answered with their own 20-6 run to cut Providence’s lead to just 29-26.
The Friars didn’t get much from Duke (5 points, 1-5 FG) in the opening half but he helped steady the ship over the final five minutes. Breed hit four free throws and two tough hoops inside by Watson helped the Friars hold a 39-34 halftime lead.
“His ability to make plays not just for himself but for others,” Cooley said when asked what he sees in freshman Breed, who enjoyed a career-game with 15 points and six rebounds.
The tenuous five-point lead at the break didn’t last long. It only grew.
The Friars continued a concerted effort to pound the ball inside to Watson and the senior big man kept delivering. Breed also kept making plays and with Creighton off to another slow start to a half, Providence’s lead grew back into double figures. A Watson tip-in and two free throws plus a Breed hoop gave PC a 52-39 lead.
“It’s very rare in college basketball today where you get a traditional, back-to-the-basket post player that did what he did tonight. I haven’t seen many college players do that,” Cooley said. “Did Nate even make a jump shot? Everything was at the rim. That is a hell of a game. I’m really proud of his development.”
PC led 56-45 with 9:36 to play after yet another Watson hoop at the rim but that’s when Creighton started to make its move. Two Jefferson hoops helped the Jays begin a 9-0 run and PC’s lead was down to 56-54. At that point Duke, Breed, Nichols and Noah Horchler all had four fouls each.
So what did the Friars do? Find Watson.
The big guy set his career-high of 25 points with another spin at the rim and when Breed nailed a clutch 3-pointer, Providence could exhale for a moment with a 65-59 led with 3:48 to play. “(Breed’s) three, to me, was the game-winner. That was a dagger,” Cooley said.
Creighton scored the next two hoops but Watson answered to make it 67-63 with 2:07 left. Jefferson missed two costly free throws and then PC hustled to tie up a loose ball and retain possession with 1:20 to play. The Friars then promptly turned it over with Greg Gantt unable to squeeze an easy inbounds pass.
That set up some crazy plays in the final minute but this time the Friars closed the deal.
Nate Watson – Career-high 29 points, 12-of-19 FG, 6 rebounds
Alyn Breed – 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
Damien Jefferson – 26 points
Marcus Zegarowski – 17 points
Here are Ed Cooley’s post-game comments: