Friars Record Crucial Road Win Over DePaul

With NCAA aspirations becoming more realistic by the day the Providence Friars arrived to Chicago for a must-win Saturday matchup against the DePaul Blue Demons. The Friars started the game strong but as fatigue took hold and DePaul narrowed the gap it looked like a two-game road trip could yield two losses. The Friars held on to keep their tournament hopes alive, defeating the Blue Demons 77-72.

Early on it seemed like there was no stopping the Friars, and Providence would run away with a conference road win. Fueled by a hot seven point start from junior forward LaDontae Henton, the Friars built an early lead to keep the Blue Demons at bay, 13-5, with 15:40 remaining in the first. The lead would be built on by Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts and Tyler Harris – Harris would go on to finish the half by leading the team in scoring with 13 points – building a comfortable 32-16 lead with 6:04 remaining, thanks to a Josh Fortune three pointer.

While DePaul seemed flustered with the Friars running away with the game, Providence was in for a surprise. DePaul hadn't begun to capitalize on what the Friars were giving them, but as fatigue began to wear on the Friars towards the end of the first half, the Blue Demons went on a 21-10 run to close out the half, 42-37, giving life to the crowd and a quake through the Friars composure. The run-away game that the Friars played for the majority of the first half had now tripped over itself and come to a near halt.

If the first half was a match being struck, the second half was a chance for DePaul to light the powder keg on the Friars. The Blue Demons got a quick layup to start the half, followed by a second layup less than two minutes later to close the Friars' lead to one. During that time Providence missed all four of their shot attempts, including two second-chance opportunities provided by Batts' offensive rebounding. The Friars would respond with five quick points from Bryce Cotton to keep it a two possession game, 47-41, but the Blue Demons answered with a three ball and going 1-1 from the line to make it 47-45.

This back and forth tussling went on for most of the second half – Providence putting away DePaul, DePaul coming back from the grave – and can mostly be attributed to exhaustion. The Friars, their legs already worn from battling Marquette not even two full days earlier, were fighting against their own fatigue as much as they were DePaul. Cotton, for example, is usually automatic from the line, but during the second half he missed three crucial free throws while DePaul was making their numerous comebacks. Three missed free throws spread out over a single game is nothing, but by comparison, three missed free throws, from the best free throw shooter, on one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, on three separate critical moments is a big deal. Another example is Josh Fortune, already not a great ball handler to begin with, turning the ball over in two critical moments during the second half. The first turnover took place with just over 13 minutes left in the game and the Friars up nine. DePaul had just scored and Fortune had the ball picked away from him by Sandi Marcius, which DePaul used to hit a three pointer that put the Friars in a two minute scoring drought because the momentum for the Blue Demons picked up immediately. The second turnover came with 4:44 left to play with the Friars up by five, 67-62. Fortune was bailed out by back-to-back missed opportunities by DePaul – first on a three point attempt, followed immediately by a missed layup – but had this been a better team, Providence could've found themselves in even more trouble than they were already facing.

In addition to fatigue affecting the offensive end of the Friars' game, their defensive effort left something to be desired at times in the second half. Every opportunity DePaul had to strike was taken advantage of, and was done so by breaking down the defense and finding a man open that the Friars couldn't scramble to in time. DePaul stayed even in scoring with Providence in the second half, each team scoring 35 apiece, but DePaul carried the momentum for the most part, the attending fans remaining loud and encouraged by DePaul's efforts.

Despite exhaustion and an away game environment, the Friars closed out the game, 77-72, to move to 6-3 in the Big East and 16-6 overall. The Friars, now sitting alone in third place of the ten team conference, added another win to solidify their NCAA resume. The Friars return home Tuesday night to take on the St. John's Red Storm in a rematch from their overtime road victory over the Johnnies earlier this season.

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