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The Xavier Musketeers may be the worst possible matchup for Providence in all of the Big East. At least with Villanova, the Wildcats struggle some shooting from three and really have only one top big man. But Xavier is big, deep and shoots very well. And that’s a combination that a cold-shooting team like Providence will have trouble with.
The game itself was indicative of all of PC’s warts. True, the Friars are 17-4 overall and 5-3 in the league, but Providence is just 3-3 in its last six games and the league is brutal and offers little relief. PC played a decent first 6 minutes and a strong last 6 minutes but the 28 minutes in between killed any opportunity at a win.
After falling behind 7-0, Kris Dunn sparked a 13-0 run with two steals and run-out dunks that had the overflow crowd of 12,804 ready to explode. Xavier fought back behind hot shooting by James Farr and the game was tied at 20-all, just under 8 minutes to play, when the Musketeers took the lead for good behind a Ronny Abell three. Xavier stretched their lead to 34-24, when PC went ice cold over the final five minutes. The Friars struggled to get inside against the big frontline and missed badly from three, shooting just 1-11 in the half. Only a jumper by Kyron Cartwright with 51 seconds left cut the deficit to 8 at the halftime.
The second half started no better for the home team. Xavier, behind Jalen Reynolds, Myles Davis and Trevon Blueitt, quickly extended their lead to double digits as the Friars kept firing away and missing. The visitors led 48-34 before a layup by Ryan Fazekas and foul shots by Junior Lomomba trimmed the lead to 10, but two Blueitt threes and J.P. Macura’s jump shot and free throws made it 59-42 with 7:22 to play.
At that point, the Friars looked dead and ready to be run out of their own building. But more pressure on defense and some shots that began to fall transformed the game quickly. Two three-pointers by Jalen Lindsey, a trey by Ben Bentil and a steal and layup by Dunn cut the lead to 62-56. The Friars kept charging but Xavier answered with two layups by Blueitt off missed threes and after two Lindsey free throws, PC was down 68-60 with just 2:14 to go.
Cartwright buried a three and after a miss by Davis, Dunn streaked ahead for a layup, and suddenly, it was a one possession game at 68-65. Xavier was frazzled and scrambling, but Macura hit the game’s dagger when he rose up and swished a three with 1:06 to go. Dunn missed a three, Reynolds rebounded but turned it over, Cartwright missed a three, Bentil kept it alive and Lindsey missed a three and Macura secured the rebound and was fouled by Dunn. After Macura’s free throw, Dunn and Bentil missed two more threes and the game was in the pocket of the Musketeers.
As has happened before, PC could not figure out Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone. “We went to the zone after PC made a run in the first half,” said coach Chris Mack. “We might have gotten out of the zone but Providence just kept missing. They really didn’t start hitting any threes until there were 5 minutes left in the game.”
Providence’s shooting is now becoming a full-fledged issue. The numbers don’t lie and eventually, as a team, you are what you are. Through 8 Big East games – almost half of the league season – PC ranks dead last in field goal percentage and three point field goal shooting. It may just be that everyone involved has overrated the player’s shooting ability. Now, it certainly didn’t help that Fazekas missed a month with mono and he is a pure shooter, but opposing teams are shadowing him to the point that he can’t get an open look. More screens need to be run to free him up.
Despite the poor shooting, the Friars continue to launch threes at an impressive rate. They finished 7-34 against Xavier (20 percent), but started 1-19, which dug a deep hole. “We had 23 threes by the last timeout at 3:47,” Ed Cooley rationalized. “And then we shot a bunch down the stretch that were desperation.”
Other than Bentil, with 25 points on 8-18 shooting and Dunn, who again filled the stat sheet with 16 points (6-15), 7 assists, 7 steals and 8 rebounds, no other Friar stepped up. Rodney Bullock was invisible on offense, shooting 1-9, Cartwright was 2-11, Lomomba 2-6 and Lindsey 2-6. Aside from Bentil and Dunn, no player had more than 2 field goals. “We had two starters shooting 3-20,” said Cooley. “You can’t win with that.”
Xavier, meanwhile, looks like a team that can make a run at a Final Four. They roll out a lot of size, with two talented 6’10 beheamoths in Reynolds (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Farr (11 points, 8 rebounds, 5-7 shooting) and another 6’10 sub with touch in Sean O’Mara off the bench. PC had a tough time with their size. Tough wings like Blueitt (15 points, 6-10), Remy Abell (6 points and Macura (10 points) battle all over the court and Davis (13 points, 7 assists) and Edmond Sumner provide direction and ballhandling. Xavier shot 51 percent against the Friars. “We can play any style on offense,” said Mack. “We’ve got size, shooting and depth.”
The Friars now return to the road, where they are 5-0 this season, with games against Georgetown on Saturday and DePaul next week. After dropping a third league home game in three tries, PC desperately needs more road wins.