The road has been a friendly place for Providence this season. Their latest away from home victory pushed their true road record to 6-0 and 4-0 in the Big East. By contrast, PC is just 2-3 in the Big East at home. That’s a topsy-turvy set of results for a team ranked #10 in the nation in both polls this week. Most Top Ten teams won’t have 3 home league losses at this point of the season. But equally, most won’t have the road success, either.
Their opponent last night has had an interesting season, as well. The Hoyas were 13-8 overall and 6-2 in the Big East, just one game behind league leader Villanova, coming into the game, yet Georgetown had played up to the better opponents on their schedule, as in a win over Xavier and down to the lesser teams. To say that both PC and Georgetown really needed the win on Saturday night would have been an understatement.
The main difference between the teams is that Providence has two truly elite players and Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil were a one-two wrecking ball against the Hoyas. Each scored 26 points and each had moments and stretches where they dominated the game. Meanwhile, Georgetown’s best player and leader, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, scored 18 but was helpless when it mattered against Dunn.
The Friars certainly tightened their defense in this game and played much more efficiently on offense, as well. Unlike the Xavier game, when PC threw up 34 three-point attempts, this time only 11 threes were tried, and the team responded by hitting 5. John Thompson III stubbornly stuck with a man-to-man defense, which Dunn and Bentil repeatedy exploited.
Not that the Friars suddenly became a team that was shooting lights-out. On non-three-point attempts, PC was 17-41, or 41 percent. Not great, but better than recent numbers and the difference in this game, is that PC made plays, and shots, when they needed them.
Providence avoided the slow starts that have been plaguing them by jumping out to a 16-7 lead, and Bentil scored PC’s first 9 points. The Hoyas answered by knotting the score at 17-all and 19-all as Bradley Hayes led the charge, but Providence spurted towards the finish line, outscoring Georgetown, 19-9 to end the half. Dunn was the catalyst, scoring inside twice, feeding Bentil for a dunk and then receiving a Kyron Cartwright pass for a baseline jam. In a change from recent games, the Friars were the ones with a double-digit lead at the break, 38-28.
Clicking on all cylinders, PC opened up a 42-30 lead three minutes into the second half before the Hoyas regrouped and made their expected run. In the blink of an eye, the lead had been reduced to 44-43 and at that point, the reeling Friars received one of the game’s key plays, a one-handed offensive rebound by Rodney Bullock off a Cartwright miss that he turned into a layup. Three offensive rebounds led to a Dunn three and after a Tre Campbell miss, another Dunn jumper opened up a 53-45 lead. PC led, 57-50, after another Dunn hoop, but L.J. Peak and Bradley Hayes scored to trim the lead to 57-54 with 4:48 to play.
The Hoyas were in foul trouble, however, and over the final 4-plus minutes, PC shot 13-16 from the free throw line. The Friars’ last field goal came with 2:25 left as Cartwright buried a corner three for a 65-56 lead. Meanwhile, Dunn was smothering Smith-Rivera, recording multiple steals and turning them into free throw opportunities for teammates. Bentil’s free throws with 27 seconds left made it 69-64 and after a Peak layup, Bentil canned two more with 11 ticks left. Smith-Rivera drained a three with 7 seconds left to trim the lead to 71-69, but Bentil’s final two freebies sealed the win.
With 26 points and 9 boards, Bentil tormented the team that had been considered the leader in his recruitment, until Paul White committed to Thompson. “Quite honestly I thought this would happen (for him), but not this fast,” said Thompson. “I’m certainly not surprised that it has happened for him.”
PC outrebounded the bigger Hoyas, 38-31, including 13-9 on the offensive glass, and along with Bentil, Bullock was a big part of that. He scored 10 points and pulled down 14 boards in a big bounce-back performance. Dunn had 26 on 8-17 shooting, along with 4 steals. Cartwright contributed 6 points and 6 assists, as Ed Cooley shortened his bench and asked his five starters – Dunn, Bentil, Bullock, Cartwright and Junior Lomomba, along with Ryan Fazekas, to give him the bulk of the minutes. As a team, PC outshot the home team from the free throw line, 24-33 to 10-13, in what was a major factor in the outcome. For once, PC wasn’t the team in foul trouble.
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The Friars remain on the road as they visit DePaul (1-8 in the Big East) on Tuesday at 9 p.m.