Certainly this game would serve as a great opportunity for a Providence College team yearning to earn its NCAA tournament stripes. With Villanova's number seventeen national ranking, a win by the Friars would go a long way towards establishing their postseason credentials. But inexplicably, PC came out flat, both offensively and defensively, dug themselves a huge hole, had no success getting the ball inside, missed critical free throws and got pounded on the glass. Throw in a few head scratching calls by the officials and you have a recipe for disaster. And yet…
With time running out, Providence was somehow in position to pull off what would be an improbable comeback. How it got to that point is something that not even the players could fully comprehend. "All I know is we were down by twenty," said Weyinmi Efejuku. "And then, all of a sudden, we weren't."
With 11,212 fans, which included the Patterson School and PC commit Vincent Council, and a boisterous student section packed and waiting to explode, the Friars came out flat and Nova took immediate advantage, running out to a 12-2 lead over the first five minutes, sparked by Scottie Reynolds, who had a game-high 31 points. Villanova led 20-10 with ten minutes to play after a three by Corey Fisher, but Providence battled back within a two minute spurt to knot the score at 20-all, behind strong shooting by Sharaud Curry, who finished with 25 points and a three by Brian McKenzie. "You couldn't ask for a better point guard than Sharaud Curry," said Keno Davis. "Because he'll do whatever is needed. We weren't scoring, he'll pull up and take jumpers. Other guys are shooting, he's going to drive and kick it to the shooters. He's becoming a better defensive player, he's probably our most improved defensive player from day one. You wouldn't be able to make a comeback like that without him on the court."
The final eight minutes of the half turned into a 29-14 run by Villanova, as the Cats snuck inside on the baseline for layups and rained threes on PC's matchup zone defense. In the first half, Villanova had built their 49-34 lead on 8-15 threes, combined with cold shooting by the Friars, with the exception of Curry. Making matters worse for Providence was an apparent ankle injury to Marshon Brooks, who went down in a heap on a rebounding scrum, and would return to play only two minutes in the second half.
Things got no better for Providence in the early stages of the second half. While PC came out of the lockerroom with more purpose and seemed to find Nova's perimeter shooters more effectively, the Cats began exploiting PC inside, and the Friars' cold shooting continued. Villanova's lead peaked at 59-39 and 62-42 and for the first ten minutes of the half, Nova's lead never fell below fourteen points. The Friars looked dead, but at the ten minute mark, PC made its move.
Weyinmi Efejuku, who had been quiet earlier, began asserting himself, and scored on a variety of free throws, drives and three pointers. "Weyinmi shows you something every night with how talented a player he is," said Davis. "And I hope he has a long career as a pro, you see glimpses of what a special talent he is." A three by Efejuku, who finished with 23 points, made it a single digit game, at 75-68, and after Reynolds' free throws, a corner three by Jeff Xavier (21 points) narrowed the gap to 77-71 with five minutes left. Poor rebounding and an inability to get stops continued to haunt Providence. Corey Stokes missed a three, but Reggie Redding grabbed the board and Dante Cunningham was fouled by Geoff McDermott, making it 80-71. A driving layup by Xavier was followed by two free throws by Dwayne Anderson, before another layup by Xavier with a minute left pulled PC within seven.
Xavier missed his free throw, but Curry grabbed the board and Jonathan Kale buried a short jumper. Now the lead was five and Nova was hanging on. Reynolds answered with a drive and layup. Two Curry free throws narrowed the lead to five but with a chance to pull closer, Kale was stuffed inside by Redding, leading to a dunk by Cunningham. Two more free throws by Curry trimmed the lead to 86-80 with thirty seconds left, but with Providence forced to foul now, Reynolds answered with his own freebies. However, Curry was not finished.
A deep three by the point guard made it 88-84 with :22 left. Two more Reynolds' free throws (13-15) pushed the lead back to six, but Curry nailed another deep three to make it 90-87 with :14 left. Suddenly, the thought of stealing this game seemed real. After being fouled by Kale, Anderson knocked down two clutch free throws, and one free throw by Kale left PC down 92-88 with five seconds remaining. However, Efejuku grabbed Kale's miss on his second attempt, and fired up a baseline three to make it 92-91 with just two seconds left. Weyinmi fouled Reynolds on the inbound and the junior calmly swished two freebies with 1.1 seconds left. Down three, PC launched a three quarter court sideline pass that Dwayne Anderson intercepted, and the Wildcats were home free.
"I'm very proud of my ballclub," said Davis. "There's a lot of teams that would have been in the situation we were in tonight, things weren't going well for us, they were knocking down shots, Marshon Brooks suffers an injury, a lot of teams wouldn't have had the fight that this team had. So I was very proud to go into the lockerroom and talk to the team and yet at the same time, we have to understand, how can we improve as a ballclub in some areas so that we have a chance to win these games. We're pretty close right now but we've got some weaknesses, we've got to be a little stronger against physical play."
For the game, Villanova pounded the Friars on the boards, 50-38, including 20 offensive rebounds. PC shot a school record 17 three pointers on a school record 40 attempts, but committed 18 turnovers, was outscored 40-21 in the paint, and 17-7 by the Cats' bench. The Friars stuck with their matchup zone, but gave up 90 points for the fourth straight game, and fifth time in the last six games. "I don't want to give up 90-plus, but I think that the numbers in this game are deceiving," said Davis. "You give up 44% from the field, 32% from three, I think those numbers are respectable defensively. When I looked up at the scoreboard and saw the score, I felt like we were holding them in the second half, but there just had to be so many possessions in the second half. We hold them to 39% from the field, 7% from three, we had to foul them at the end of the game, I thought our defensive output was pretty good. We got out on shooters, you didn't see them have open looks that they had in the first half, partly because I didn't feel that we were turning it over against their aggressive halfcourt pressure. We were tougher with the ball." Indeed, PC outscored Villanova 57-45 in the second half, but the hole was too deep.
PC surrendered 94 points despite Villanova's 1-13 shooting from three point range in the second half. Jonathan Kale battled gamely inside for 10 points and 8 rebounds, but Geoff McDermott was ineffective offensively and Randall Hanke remained stuck on 999 career points, as he was held scoreless. "You've got to give credit to Villanova. They're very aggressive with their play," Davis said. "Even though you might think of them as being a little undersized, they play very physical and they body you in the post and they play aggressive and they get their hands on you on the perimeter and they force you into those turnovers. So its not as easy to throw the ball in to the post when you've got a guy draped over you. So you've got to be smart enough to understand that you're not going to get that call if you don't drive into the basket, drive into the contact, and sometimes you don't get a call then. But at least it gives you a chance to get to the free throw line by doing that. If you back up from that pressure, you got no chance. And for a part of the game, it didn't feel like we could get to that free throw line."
First and foremost, though, the defense has to improve in a hurry as PC travels to Morgantown, a tough and hostile place for visitors to win, as the Friars take on West Virginia on Saturday in a 4:00 game.
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