#8 Providence Friars 71 (22-3)
Butler Bulldogs 70 (13-15)
Playing without its late-game closer Al Durham, the Providence Friars got off to a rocky start, beginning the game shooting just 4/24 from the field and allowing open looks on seemingly every defensive possession. The team fell behind by as much as 19 to a Butler team that was hungry for a win to get them back to a .500 record.
After taking a 13-point deficit into halftime, the Friars slowly started putting things together on both ends of the floor, eventually tying the game with 26 seconds left in regulation on a long jumper from Noah Horchler. After pushing the game to overtime, the visiting Friars were able to squeeze out a victory that puts them in good to win their first ever Big East Conference title.
- I want to say that it was a tale of two halves but after trailing by 13 points at half, the Friars actually went down 43-23 three minutes into the second stanza. So, it wasn’t even a full half of basketball that the Friars used to get back to even but more like 17 minutes.
- You could easily tell that the Friars missed the presence of Al Durham during the game and even more so down the stretch when multiple players were missing free throws. Durham has been dealing with a painful sports hernia for the past month that finally got too much to continue to playing through at this time. Providence needs his leadership and play-making ability down the stretch if they want to reach their potential ceiling in March.
- Durham was engaged during the entire game on the bench, at times acting as a pseudo second coach to his teammates.
- When the Friars were able to get Nate Watson the ball in the post, he was able to seemingly score at will against the smaller Butler frontcourt. Watson finished 10/15 for a game-high 22 points and when the Friars needed to get something going offensively, he was always their answer. He started the first half, second half, and overtime with a post bucket as Cooley continually went back to the well.
- This was Big Nate’s 7th game this season with 20+ points and the Big Dog is currently averaging a team-high 14.2 ppg on 56.4% shooting from the field.
- Jared Bynum played the full 45 minutes (I think he was actually out for like 20 seconds at one point but it still rounds up to 45), scoring 18 points that included some of his patented ridiculous end-of-the-shot-clock hammers in the process. Bynum also finished with with a game-high 5 assists with just 1 turnover.
- Bynum was probably the player that missed Al the most on the team. Having both Durham and Bynum on the court at the same time takes the pressure of being the sole ball handler off each of them. It also allows for Bynum to come off the bench, a role that he embraces and has thrived in since coming back from his ankle injury earlier this year.
- Jared was an uncharacteristic 6/11 from the free throw line but is still shooting 73.2% from the stripe on the season.
- Bynum has scored 18+ points in each of his last 5 games, averaging 22.4 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, & 1.8 spg. His shooting has been ridiculous, particularly from distance, making multiple threes in each of the 5 games and hitting 19/31 (61.3%) from deep.
- Another double-double from Noah Horchler.
- Horchler notched his 3rd double-double in his last 6 games and tallied his 8th of the year after accomplishing the feat only once all of last season.
- Noah came up huge on both sides of the floor at the end of regulation, connecting on a 15-footer on one end to tie the game and blocking a game-winning attempt from Butler on the other end.
- Horchler ended the game with 15 points, a game-high 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and all 3 of the Friars blocks for the game.
- Justin Minaya had a tough game on the offensive side of the ball, finishing with just 3 points on 1/4 shooting from the field. His shooting woes were highlighted when after being fouled shooting a three, he proceeded to miss all three of his attempts at the line. Minaya missed one more during the game, going 0/4 from the line. The Friars as a team were just 50% from the line, something that we just haven’t seen them do this year, mostly due to Al Durham making and taking a boatload of attempts at the charity stripe.
- Even when things aren’t clicking for Minaya in a scoring capacity, he still provides high-level defense, which is why he played 44 out of a possible 45 minutes in the game.
- A.J. Reeves was as cold as ice for the majority of the game but no matter what his shooting stats are in any Friars game, I am supremely confident in Reeves taking and making big shots down the stretch…which he did. He’s done it so many times over the course of his Friars career that it should surprise anyone in Friartown when he expects to make those pressure threes in the closing minutes of a close game.
- This three from Andrew Fonts at the end of the first half was enormous for Providence. The Friars were only 1/10 from three before Fonts connected and the combination of Bynum, Reeves, Minaya, Breed, & Goodine had not made a single field goal between them up to this point. Without hesitation, Fonts entered the game an immediately made an impact through his vocal communication on the defensive end and knocking down a much needed bucket when the Friars appeared to be unable to make anything go through the hoop.
- Ed Cooley trusts his walk-on players more than any coach I can remember seeing. Cooley will put a walk-on in the game and I fully expect that guy to make the right decisions and bring a boost of intensity for the team. Also, the rest of the team have faith that he’ll do the same. It’s not like they’re contemplating whether or not to pass him the ball like I’ve seen other teams do. Over the course of his tenure at Providence, Cooley has put guys like Ted Bancroft and Tom Planek in the game and they’ve been able to give good minutes. It always reminds me of another comeback against Butler in 2014-2015 where Cooley ran with the same lineup for pretty much the whole second half, including Bancroft. Having confidence in your players translates to them having confidence in themselves.
- This might be my favorite thing from the game. With just 17 minutes left, down 19 points on the road, Cooley used their final timeout of the 2nd half and stood at the end of the floor while the team had a players only huddle. This team is experienced enough that you can only motivate them so much before they have to take it upon themselves to turn things around. No one is yelling at anyone in the huddle but everyone is communicating. Al looks like a stand-in coach. Nate and A.J. are being vocal and encouraging. Even Fonts is giving his two cents to the huddle and everyone is listening to each other. This team is as connected to each other as any team I’ve seen at Providence.
- I don’t want to talk about Noah’s new haircut, but I feel like I have to talk about Noah’s new haircut. Following the loss to Villanova, Horchler cut his luscious locks off that he had been growing since the pandemic started.
- However, we did get some reassurance from The Viking (I guess I’ll have to think of a new name now).
- I feel bad for this Butler team. They’ve experienced basically the opposite season that the Friars have, coming up on the short end of a lot of close games this year. Over their last 7 games, the team has lost to Providence in OT by 1, lost at Creighton by 3, lost against St. John’s by 3, and lost at Xavier by 2. That’s 4 losses by a total of 9 points in their last 7 games and blowing a 19 point lead at home, only to lose in OT is a rough one to swallow.
- Not like anyone needs a reminder, but Big East refs have been horrendous this year.
Next Up, the Friars return home to The Dunk in front of another sold out crowd to take on Xavier. The game will be 7 PM on the dreaded CBS Sports Network. The one silver lining however…