Providence entered the game in the USF Sun Dome in Tampa desperate for a win. The Friars were losers of their last three, were giving up 90 points per game and had been thrashed by West Virginia by 27 points in their last outing. A good start and solid play was a must against a South Florida squad that plays tough at home.
To open the game, however, South Florida grabbed an early 9-5 lead despite a quick three by Jeff Xavier. The Bulls were led by five quick points by Dominique Jones and two equally quick fouls on Geoff McDermott. However, an 8-0 run by PC pushed the Friars ahead by four. Marshon Brooks made his return felt with a dunk to knot the score at 9-all, and Providence grabbed their first lead on a Randall Hanke layup off a Brooks feed. Jones, a sophomore averaging 18.1 ppg, continued to make his presence felt, pulling South Florida back, as McDermott struggled from the free throw line. In the first eight minutes, the senior forward was 0-6 from the line.
A three point play by Jones gave the Bulls an 18-15 lead, and the Friars continued to hang in as Sharaud Curry and Jonathan Kale traded jumpers with Chris Howard. After a Jones jumper, Augustus Gilchrist blocked an Xavier layup attempt and the Bulls were up 23-21. Jones banged home a three before Hanke answered with another layup, but it was clear that PC had no answers for Jones, who had 15 points in the first 15 minutes. After a Brooks basket, the Friars trailed by one with five minutes left.
Jesus Verdejo fouled Hanke on a layup and the center completed the three point play for a 28-26 Friar lead, which was followed by a Brooks three pointer as Providence was on another 8-0 run. Howard broke the run but Brooks drilled another three and PC was up six before another Howard jumper. Weyinmi Efejuku missed a layup but Kale converted an offensive rebound and Curry buried a short shot for a 38-30 lead with a minute left. After a Verdejo basket, Curry nailed a three with nine seconds remaining and the Friars took a 41-32 lead at the half.
PC had shot the ball well, hitting 17-28 (61%) field goals, including 4-7 from three, but had hit just 3-9 from the foul line. The Friars were led by Brooks, with 10 points, Kale with 8, and Curry and Hanke had chipped in 7 apiece. Meanwhile, South Florida was paced by Jones, who had finally cooled off in the last five minutes, with 15 points, while Verdejo had 8 and Howard 7 points. The Bulls had hurt PC with strong offensive rebounding, but hadn't shot particularly well, and were only 2-8 from the charity stripe themselves.
After Eladio Espinosa dunked to open the second half, Jones followed with a three and PC was forced to call a quick timeout, but Brian McKenzie missed a three and the Friars were on their heels. Providence needed to answer and Sharaud Curry popped a jumper to get PC on the board three minutes in and McKenzie nailed a three for a 46-37 lead. PC maintained a 52-41 lead after three points by Hanke, a layup by Howard, a free throw by Efejuku and a bucket by Weyinmi, forcing a Bulls timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Jones missed a three pointer and Hanke followed with another layup.
After two Efejuku free throw misses, Aris Williams converted a layup and Kale answered at the other end and PC led 58-45 with just under ten to play. A McKenzie three point miss led to another Williams layup, and an Efejuku three point miss saw Jones answer with a jumper, trimming the lead to nine. Curry nailed two free throws for his 1000th career point at the 7:42 mark, and Hanke followed with two freebies to extend the lead back to thirteen. When Brooks missed on a drive, Verdejo scored and Xavier missed a three pointer. Howard and Jones both made one of two free throws, and Jones sank a layup after an Efejuku miss and a jumper to cut PC's lead to 62-57 with 4:23 left and force a PC timeout. A 12-4 spurt by the Bulls, keyed by quick long range misses by PC, put the Friars in a position of having to hold on in the final four minutes.
Brian McKenzie buried a huge three on a feed by Efejuku and Weyinmi knocked down two freebies to open up a ten point margin again. Justin Leemow missed a three and fouled Efejuku, who hit two more freebies. Verdejo followed with a three point miss and Kale buried a pair of free throws for a 71-57 bulge. After another Leemow three point miss, Kale grabbed the board and was fouled by Howard. His free throw made it a fifteen point game with 1:30 left and the Friars were home free. With USF forced now to foul, Marshon Brooks sank two and rammed a dunk home on a nice assist by Curry with :43 left. A harmless Jones bucket made the final score 77-62.
The Friars had survived and had won a game that they absolutely had to have, moving to 15-9 overall and 7-5 in the Big East. Moreover, the win snapped their three game losing streak, came on the road, and came in a game in which they had held their opponent to just 62 points.
For the game, Providence's big men dominated inside, with Kale scoring 15 points and Hanke 14. Brooks also had 14, Curry 11 and Efejuku 9 points as Providence shot 26-51 (51%) for the game, 6-15 from three, but just 19-32 from the line. Had PC shot free throws better, the game would have turned into a blowout much earlier. To be fair, South Florida also shot poorly from the line, hitting just 5-16 and 27-69 overall. Jones led with 29 points on 12-24 shooting, while Howard had 13 and Verdejo ended with 10.
Now the Friars will turn their attention to Saturday, when they return home to the Dunk for a 7:00 matchup with a reeling Rutgers team, in yet another must-win scenario.
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