The sign of a good team is its ability to overcome adversity. And Providence certainly faced adversity against the Arizona Wildcats late Friday night. Adversity in the form of deep foul trouble. Adversity in getting spanked 43-29 off the backboards, which limited the Friars to 6 offensive rebounds. But when faced with adversity the young Friars responded by turning to their All-American point guard, Kris Dunn.
Dunn has made it a habit of slow offensive starts this season as he has worked on getting others involved and his own jump shot to fall. Against Arizona, that was compounded by foul trouble that limited him to 9 minutes in the first half and 21 overall.
After the Friars jumped out to a 10-6 lead, Arizona fought back to take a 25-21 advantage behind Ryan Anderson, a transfer from Boston College who has made torching the Friars a habit. A Ryan Fazekas three and three Ben Bentil baskets pushed PC to the lead, but Gabe York gave Arizona a one point edge before a Junior Lomomba layup put PC up. The Friars tried to keep the lead going into halftime but Kadeem Allen knocked down a jumper with 7 seconds left and when PC couldn’t get off a shot after a timeout, the Cats had a 34-33 advantage at the break.
The Friars started the second half strong and a three point play by Lomomba and layups by Fazekas and Rodney Bullock quickly regained the lead for Providence. A Bentil layup gave PC a 47-42 cushion but the Cats came right back behind a three point play by Anderson and a layup by Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
Ryan Anderson was proving difficult to handle inside as both Bentil and Bullock were piling up fouls and Arizona opened up a 55-51 lead after a Dusan Riestic jumper with 7:14 left and Dunn on the bench. York capped a 22-9 Zona run with a three to make it 58-51 before Fazekas answered with a three. When Anderson buried a jumper and York followed with another three after a Bentil miss, Zona led 63-59 with 2:42 to play.
At that point, Kris Dunn took over the game, scoring PC’s’ final 10 points. First a driving layup. Then a Dunn steal off Mark Tollefson, resulting in two free throws. Anderson turned the ball over on a three second call and Dunn followed with a jumper. 65-63 PC with 1:15 left. Anderson was fouled by Bentil and knocked down two freebies to knot the game, but Dunn answered with a stop and go drive in the lane. 67-65 Friars with 32 seconds to go. Jackson-Cartwright attempted a drive but was stripped by Bentil, who fired a long pass to a streaking Dunn, who finished the play with an emphatic dunk and 69-65 lead with 10 seconds left and when Jackson-Cartwright missed a three-point attempt, the Friars had secured an impressive victory.
“At the end of the game I just looked at Kris and said 'You got us here, we’re going to ride your coattails the whole year. I’m coming to you, tell me where you want it,” said Cooley. “That was a big-time performance the last two minutes of the game.”
The Friars also overcame a missed call by the refs when Bullock dunked the ball early in the second half and the ball hit Tollefson’s head as it passed through the cylinder and bounced back up. None of the refs saw the basket and the Friars had two sure points wiped out.
Although Dunn, Bentil and Bullock all finished with 4 fouls apiece, Bentil led the way with 21 points, Dunn followed with 19 on 6-9 shooting and 8 assists, Bullock and Fazekas had 8 each and Lomomba had 7. Kyron Cartwright also helped keep the boat afloat while Dunn was on the bench for extended periods. The Friars forced 21 turnovers, which greatly aided their cause and shot 50 percent for the game.
The win, following a 74-64 first round win over a good Evansville team, enables PC to play for the tournament’s title on Sunday night at 10 p.m. against 3rd-ranked Michigan State. The Spartans are led by Denzel Valentine who already has two triple-doubles and is averaging 18 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.8 assists a game. The Dunn-Valentine game alone is worth the price of admission.
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