Its not often that Providence opens the Big East portion of its schedule at home, and its even less often when the Friars open it with a win. But both of those things happened last night at the Dunk before 8954 fans.
This game boiled down to one thing: Providence's bigs versus Marquette's smalls. And the Friars bigs emerged victorious in a knockout.
Most pundits knew that Providence had a frontcourt advantage, while many felt, that with the continued absence of Sharaud Curry, Marquette had the advantage in the backcourt. While PC would be without Curry, the Eagles were without guard Jeren McNeal, who had stayed in Milwaukee after banging heads in practice with Wesley Matthews.
Tim Welsh took advantage of PC's frontcourt advantage by starting Jonathan Kale over usual starter Charlie Burch. "With Sharaud out, we had been an uptempo team," said Welsh. "We put Jon in to go with more power. I thought, let's flip that and go with three power guys against their three guards." The move worked to perfection.
Providence raced to a 12-2 lead, as Marquette seemed to be caught off balance by the physical nature of PC's frontcourt. The Friars scored inside at will, and when an Eagle ventured into the paint, he was turned away by Herbert Hill's shot blocking prowess. In addition, PC sat back in a zone that dared Marquette to beat them from the outside. "If you rebound and you defend, you'll win," said Welsh. "The last couple of years, we've been porous defensively. We got our edge back tonight. We played with general toughness."
Marquette is a team that runs hot and cold with its perimeter shooting. Against PC, the Eagles were mostly cold, and coupled with an inability to go inside, that formed a fatal combination for the Eagles. During the latter part of the first half, Marquette, led by tough point guard Dominic James, probed PC's zone a bit better and found some gaps, which enabled them to cut the lead to 32-26 with 1:40 left, but a three pointer by Dwain Williams, and free throws by Kale pushed the lead back to 37-28 at the half.
In the early part of the second half, PC's frontcourt play softened a bit, and the Eagles hung around. "Our frontline was a little porous early in the second half," commented Welsh. "But then we toughened up again. The game was teetering a bit. We had around a nine point lead most of the time, but they got it down to six, but then we put our foot down."
Indeed, Marquette cut the lead to 38-32 on free throws by Ousmane Barro, and 58-50 with 5:08 to go after freebies from Lazar Hayward. That was the end of the line for the Eagles, though. After a timeout, Weyinmi Efejuku nailed an open three pointer from the left corner for a 61-50 lead, and the advantage remained in double digits for the rest of the way. "Weyinmi shouldn't have played against Florida State," said Welsh. "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't even have suited him up. But his hand is getting better now, and he's getting used to playing with it."
The Friars were led by a dominating game by Herb Hill, who had 23 points on 9-16 shooting, 9 rebounds and 7 blocked shots. Efejuku chipped in 18 points, a career high 10 rebounds and was 10-10 from the free throw line. Williams made a few questionable decisions, but overall did a good job with 11 poionts, Kale had 9 points and 3 boards… and then there was Geoff McDermott. McDermott displayed a phenomenal all-around game, once again helping out with ballhandling duties, sweeping the glass and displaying a toughness not seen since Michael Smith. The strongman just missed another triple-double, with 11 points, a career-high 11 assists and 9 rebounds. His best play was a drive to the hoop, in which he was smacked on the arm, but had enough strength to sink the basket and draw the foul.
As a team, PC outrebounded Marquette 42-31, and shot 50% from the floor. James, whose strength is not outside shooting, had 12 points, but was only 1-8 from three. In fact, Marquette was just 4-23 from three, and was led by Matthews, who played a solid and aggressive game with 14 points and 5 boards.
Dwain Williams mom flew in from California to watch the Marquette and Seton Hall games… The entire Notre Dame Prep team was present, including Friar target Jamine "Greedy" Peterson. Certainly, the squad was present to support former teammate Lazar Hayward and current teammate Damian Saunders, who will be attending Marquette… Tim Welsh quipped "They were missing a very good player (McNeal), but so were we (Curry), so I guess it evened out."... On Saturday, PC will honor Dave Gavitt and Joe Mullaney, raising banners to the rafters and naming the court at the Dunk after Hall of Famer Gavitt. Sixty or so former players will attend and the ceremony will begin around 7:30, followed by the game against Seton Hall at 8:00.
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