Nova Beats Back Friars' Challenge, 92-81

It's not easy to beat the #4 ranked team in the country, especially on their home court. It's even more difficult when the referees decide to butt in with a healthy dose of home cooking. Providence discovered just that, as the Friars fell to Villanova, 92-81 on Saturday.

With the loss, Providence falls to 12-13 on the season, and 4-9 in the Big East, while Villanova improves to 22-2 and 11-1. Despite dropping below .500 on the year for the first time, PC was more than competitive with the highly ranked Wildcats, trading punches all game long.

Villanova raced out to an 11-3 lead before the Friars settled in and fought back behind a healthy dose of Wildcat fouls and solid foul shooting. Two Sharaud Curry three-pointers pushed Providence ahead 17-16, and Curry and Marshon Brooks followed with threes to up the lead to 23-20.

Nova pushed the ball inside to Antonio Pena and his two lay-ups and a Taylor King three capped an 8-0 run and opened a 35-27 Villanova lead, all part of a 15-4 run. With two minutes remaining, Providence trailed 39-30, but Bilal Dixon scored on a dunk out of a time-out and completed the three point play. After a Pena free throw, Reggie Redding turned the ball over and Vincent Council and Dixon closed the half with a free throw each, as Villanova clung to a 40-35 lead.

Despite not shooting particularly well, and being out-rebounded by Nova, the Friars had hung with the Wildcats by hitting free throws, making 12 of 15, capitalizing on Villanova turnovers, and a hot first half by Sharaud Curry. PC did hit five of its first eight threes, and had limited star guard Scottie Reynolds to four first half points. However, Reynolds has torched a number of opponents in the second half this season, and this game would be no different.

The Friars roared out of the locker room in the second half, and stunned Villanova with a 7-0 run that featured a short jumper by Dixon, a lay-up and two free throws by Jamine Peterson, who had been quiet in the first half, with three points and two rebounds. That pushed PC ahead 42-40, but Nova responded with A Corey Fisher jumper and Pena dunk. That also cued up the beginning of a string of foul calls by the refs that put the Friars on the defensive.

A Curry three gave PC a 49-46 lead, but Reynolds answered with his own three. Over the next four minutes, PC had only lay-ups by Curry and Brian McKenzie and was plagued by fouls and turnovers as Nova built a 58-53 lead behind Reynolds and Corey Stokes. A Peterson three snapped Nova's run, but Reynolds answered with two free throws, and on a feed from Council, Peterson's lay-up trimmed the deficit to 64-60. And then the game turned.

Curry, who had scored 19 points and had hit four of the Friars' nine three pointers, and Reynolds got tangled right in front of the Villanova bench, and despite the fact that Reynolds looked to have grabbed Curry, referee Doug Shows called a foul on Curry. When Curry said something, Shows hit him with a technical foul, which resulted in Sharaud fouling out of the game with 8:07 to play. Reynolds hit three of four free throws, and the Wildcats quickly began to pull away, as the whistles continued against Providence.

"The explanation I got for the technical foul was, he (Curry) said, `Where's the foul?"' coach Keno Davis said. "He put his arms somewhat up. It's about as demonstrative as Curry has ever been and that's not very demonstrative."

In a minute and a half, free throws by Fisher, Pena and Stokes and a Reynolds three opened a 79-65 lead and the Cats were never threatened. The lead peaked at 16, 92-76, after a Fisher lay-up, and only a bucket by Council and a three by Peterson closed the gap to a respectable 11 point loss.

For the game, PC was uncharacteristically whipped on the glass, 41-28 and the usually strong offensive rebounding was missing, somewhat of a surprise against a guard-oriented Villanova team. PC shot just 38% and hit 9-25 threes, and a better 24-33 free throws. Unfortunately, PC was called for a whopping 25 fouls, with Curry having fouled out and Dixon, Council and Peterson ending up with four fouls each. Council bounced back with 21 points, including 8-9 free throws and 6 assists, while Curry and Peterson had 19 points, the latter with 9 rebounds. Meanwhile, Villanova was paced by Reynolds and Fisher, each with 22 points, while Pena had 15 points and 12 boards.

Defensively, despite giving up 92 points and being outscored 52-46 in the second half, the Friars seem to be improving incrementally. Free throw shooting was definitely improved, and the fact that PC hung in against a highly ranked opponent, on the road, and against adversity in the form of its hottest player fouling out on a highly questionable call, all are good signs. All the Friars can do is look forward to returning home for a Wednesday battle with 5th ranked West Virginia. PC has shown an incredible ability to bounce back from tough losses all season… the Mountaineers will present yet another opportunity to grab a win against a ranked opponent.

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