With Kris Dunn on the bench in sweats as a result of a severe stomach bug and Ben Bentil presumably out due to an ankle sprain, Friar fans anxiously pondered how their team would react. After all, Bryant had lost big to a number of foes and was no longer the giant killer that they had been over the past several seasons because of graduation losses. Still, without their top two players and a third starter, Ryan Fazekas, back on campus with mono, PC had to at least be vulnerable.
Noontime starts have traditionally been problematic and with little energy in the building, Providence predictably started sluggishly. The 7,369 fans witnessed a poor shooting start that Bryant gladly took advantage of. Eight minutes into the game, the visitors led 20-10 behind Hunter Ware and Dan Garvin. Meanwhile, the Friars, and in particular, Jalen Lindsey, were firing up and missing three pointer after three pointer.
Freshman Marcus Pettway’s layup gave Bryant a 28-17 lead and nothing was coming easily for Providence. Missed defensive assignments led to several wide open cuts for layups by the Bulldogs and things were not looking good for the Friars, who were losing out on long rebounds and fifty-fifty balls, as well. And that’s when a spark arrived.
Ben Bentil had warmed up but was on the bench when the game started. With 5:15 to go in the half, he entered the game to a rousing ovation. “We saw Bentil warm up so we weren’t surprised when he came in, but I don’t think Ed planned to play him or that was in their game plan,” said Bryant coach Tim O’Shea. “Because of the way the game was going, I think he felt he had to at that point.”
“We weren’t intending to play him,” agreed Ed Cooley. “The young man’s health is more important. But Ben came to me and said he could go, so we put him in.”
Bentil provided an immediate spark. He grabbed a defensive rebound and hit his first shot, a ten-foot jumper. That started a rush towards the finish line for PC, as the Friars dialed up the defensive pressure, created several turnovers and those led to layups by Junior Lomomba and Rodney Bullock and a three pointer by Bullock, the Friars’ first three after 13 misses, which narrowed the score to 29-28 with 42 seconds left. When Nisre Zouzoua missed a three with ten seconds left, PC had a chance to go to the half with the lead, but Bullock threw away a lead pass and Ware intercepted and buried an open three at the buzzer. The Friars trailed, 32-18, but had weathered a major storm.
With Bentil back, PC quickly charged in the second half. A Lindsey three pointer gave the Friars a 33-32 lead and although Bryant retook the lead on a Shane McLaughlin layup, that would be Bryant’s last lead of the game. Lindsey followed with a lane jumper and then another spark arrived. Drew Edwards, who had played well defensively in the first half with 3 steals in 12 minutes, caught fire. From the fifteen minute mark on down to the 8 minute mark, Edwards hit four threes and a 2-point jumper and that gave the home team a 57-47 cushion. Coupled with Bryant cooling off from the field, PC extended the lead to 12 on a Bentil layup.
A basket by Pettway and a three-point play by Garvin cut the lead to 59-52 with 6:14 left but Bentil threw down a breakaway dunk and Lindsey caromed home a three. A three-point play by Pettway (9 points, 10 rebounds) and a jumper by Zouzoua (11 points) trimmed the lead again to 64-57 with 2:22 to go, but Edwards answered with a huge three. The Bulldogs attempted to stretch out the clock after a McLaughlin jumper by fouling and Kyron Cartwright hit two freebies to restore the 10-point lead.
Garvin (16 points, 9 rebounds) tipped in a shot but three Bentil free throws pushed PC’s lead to 72-61 with 42 seconds left, and threes by Ware and McLaughlin only served to make the final score a little closer.
The Friars continued to struggle shooting the three-ball. Without Edwards’ 5-9 performance, PC shot 3-19 behind the arc after an 0-13 start. In addition, PC was only 14-24 from the free throw line, missing some late that could have iced the game even earlier.
PC was led by Edwards, with 17 points, on 6-10 shooting, including 5-9 threes and 5 steals. Bentil registered 16 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes, while Lindsey had 15 points and Bullock contributed 13 points, 13 boards, 3 blocks and 4 steals in 35 minutes.
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The fact that Bullock even played was a surprise. “We didn’t think he’d play,” said Cooley. “He’s running a fever and is pretty sick. Kyron was also sick and had to come out of the game at the end of the first half and was limited. Our whole locker room isn’t feeling good. I’m coming down with something. But if you’re going to get sick, now is the time to do it. We have a week off and our guys have exams and papers so we’ll give them some time off to get their school work done and hopefully feel better and be ready for Rider next Saturday.”