The “close but no cigar” Providence College men's basketball team was nowhere to be found Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Instead of suffering another last-second setback, the Friars spent much of the evening swimming against the tide before fading late in a 79-69 loss to a Marquette squad that played with a sense of desperation that PC struggled to match.
Facing a Golden Eagles outfit that took the court for the first time in seven days, the Friars looked like a team that refused to shift into gear. A lack of timely stops along with a ton of forced shots and the inability to snatch rebounds were three of the major bugaboos that led to Ed Cooley’s crew dropping its third straight game.
“We're not earning wins. We're good enough to stay in games, but we're not disciplined enough,” Cooley said after the Friars (7-6 overall) dipped below .500 in Big East play (3-4). “We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
With Jared Bynum (groin) out for the second straight game, the Friars’ lack of a pure point guard resulted in an even greater workload placed on David Duke’s plate. Duke responded with a career-best nine assists, though he was just 5 of 18 from the field for 17 points.
“We’ve got to get Jared healthy, but other guys have to step up with production,” Cooley said, adding, “there was no chance (Bynum) was playing. It’ll be a miracle if he can play on Saturday.”
Nate Watson and A.J. Reeves both fought through injuries but managed to hang in there long enough to finish with 18 and 12 points, respectively. Jimmy Nichols added 11 points for a Friars squad that was just 15 of 40 from two-point range in addition to being outrebounded, 39-30, and outscored in the paint, 36-22.
A Marquette team that came in losers of four of five received a game-high 20 points from talented freshman Dawson Garcia, who missed just four shots. Koby McEwen added 17 points for the Golden Eagles (7-6, 3-4 Big East).
Despite the layoff, the Golden Eagles showed little rust en route to erasing a 13-11 Friars lead. With Garcia and McEwen leading the charge, Marquette hit PC over the head with a 21-3 run that spoke to the trouble the Friars ran into when it came to struggling on both ends of the court.
The deficit for Providence grew to 16 points, 34-18, after an uncontested dunk by Marquette’s Justin Lewis. But instead of getting worse, the Friars' outlook took a turn for the uplifting heading into the half.
Two 3s from an unlikely source (Nichols) and a putback from Watson helped position the Friars for a strong push that Reeves capped when he went the backdoor route and was fouled with 19.6 seconds left.
Reeves completed the three-point play to bring Providence to within nine, and PC had a golden opportunity to cut into Marquette’s 38-29 lead. The 3-pointer from the wing was off target as the horn sounded, but PC was back in the picture despite shooting 33% and watching its leading scorer, Duke, miss his final seven shots after starting 2 of 2 from beyond the arc.
“He’s emptying the tank, but (Duke) needs some help,” Cooley said.
Eventually, Duke woke up and helped the Friars come close to evening the score. A 2-of-2 showing at the foul line by Greg Gantt cut Marquette’s lead to 49-46 with 11:55 remaining.
The Golden Eagles continued to keep the Friars in chase mode at 57-51, but PC countered behind two free throws from Duke and Noah Horchler’s first points of the game — coming on a 3 — to pull the Friars within one.
Then came a series of empty possessions that helped Marquette get some breathing room at 63-58. After a questionable no-call where Reeves attempted to finish at the rim, the Golden Eagles got out on the break with Lewis hitting an opening 3-pointer to make it a multi-possession game.
Gantt had a chance to complete a three-point play but missed the free throw that would have brought Providence to within one with 3:36 remaining. Getting over the hump wasn’t in the cards for PC, however. Marquette ripped off a 10-3 run that enabled the home team to get in the clear with time waning.
The nail in the coffin came courtesy of a clearly missed goaltending call during which Marquette’s Theo John was credited with a blocked shot when it was clear the ball had hit the glass. It was a sequence that summed up yet another frustrating performance for a PC outfit that will have a few days to regroup before hosting Georgetown on Saturday.
“Didn’t like how it ended. The last six minutes of the game, I thought we were soft and not connected,” Cooley said. “You’ve got to be more disciplined. That’s what I’m challenging my team with right now. If we don’t get to that point, we’re going to have a hard time surviving in the Big East.”