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Kris Dunn went from goat to hero in the span of 11 seconds. With the Friars leading 48-46, and coming out of a timeout, Providence put the ball in Dunn’s hands and he dribbled into Maurice Watson, who picked him cleanly with 31 seconds left and drove the ball towards the Creighton basket.
With 15 seconds remaining, Watson executed a dribble drive past Dunn to the basket and sank a reverse layup to knot the score. Ed Cooley eschewed calling a timeout and once again put the ball in his All-American’s hands. Dunn methodically dribbled up court with Khyri Thomas guarding him and with 6 seconds to go, crossed over to his left as Thomas poked at the ball, stepped back from Thomas and launched a foul line jumper that hit the iron between the rim and the backboard and dropped through at the buzzer for the win.
That Providence was even in a position to win was a testament to how badly Creighton shot the ball. Because the Friars were equally bad, especially in the first half. The shooting for both teams was as frigid as the air outside the arena in Omaha. Once again, PC started slowly, this time missing their first 10 shots of the game. Ben Bentil and Rodney Bullock both picked up two first half fouls, limiting their effectiveness, and through the first media timeout, Creighton led, 3-0.
Seven minutes into the half, PC found the scoreboard on a Dunn jumper, but the Blue Jays raced out to a lead of 19-7 before PC clawed back to within three on a Drew Edwards three point play and threes by Ryan Fazekas and Jalen Lindsey. Still, the Friars went scoreless over the final 2:49 of the half and trailed 25-18 at halftime. For the first half, PC had shot an ice-cold 18 percent.
More of the same followed in the second half. Halfway through the final period, PC had outscored Creighton 10-9 and still trailed, 34-28. The Friars were missing jump shot after jump shot, while the Jays were missing bunnies and point blank shots at the rim. At the eight minute to play mark, the Friars stirred. Dunn knocked down two free throws and threw down a big-time dunk off a Bentil assist. Lindsey jammed home an offensive rebound on a Bentil miss and PC was within one.
Dunn and Bentil sandwiched three-pointers around a George Groselle layup and PC had pulled even, at 43-all. After a Watson turnover and missed jumper, Dunn knocked down three out of four free throws and PC led 46-43 with 3:46 to play. Groselle answered with a layup but Dunn fed Bentil for a dunk. With a minute to play, Lindsey was stripped by Isaiah Zierden, but Groselle fouled out while going over Kyron Cartwright’s back on a Watson miss. Cartwright missed the front end of a one-and-one and fouled James Milliken, who made one free throw, setting up the wild final 30 seconds.
The Friars, led by an under-the-weather Cooley, who was suffering from vertigo, never really heated up, shooting 29 percent for the game. Creighton was even worse, at 25 percent. For the third time in four Big East games, PC was cold offensively at the start. Against Butler, the Friars trailed 36-25 at halftime, and against Marquette, PC was down 30-24 at the half. That’s a trend that needs to change.
PC was outrebounded 46-43, including 17-10 on the offensive glass, and only Creighton’s lack of accuracy around the basket kept this game close. The 7-foot Groselle, who came into the game leading the nation in field goal percentage, at nearly 75 percent, was just 2-4, his time limited to 14 minutes due to foul trouble. Watson, who was harassed all game by Dunn, was limited to 3-16 shooting, 4 turnovers and 9 points, although at 5’10, he pulled down a team-leading 9 boards. Toby Hegner led Creighton with 11 points on 4-11 shooting.
For Providence, Dunn shot 6-17, although he was 7-8 from the free throw line, for 20 points, along with 8 rebounds. His one negative was 5 turnovers, against just 3 assists, but the low assist total was due to teammates not making shots rather than Dunn not making plays. Bentil chipped in 13 points and 8 boards while Edwards had 6 points and 2 big rebounds down the stretch. The Friars surprisingly received next to nothing from their usual third option, Bullock, who went scoreless on 0-2 shooting and pulled down 1 rebound in 22 minutes. PC shot an icy 4-24 from the three-point line.
The Friars return to action on Saturday at home for a 4:30 tip against Seton Hall.