PROVIDENCE — Lesson learned.
This time, with the score in their favor by three points with 8.3 seconds remaining in Sunday’s game against DePaul, the Providence Friars did not allow the Blue Demons the opportunity to hoist a 3-point shot. Unlike the double-overtime loss to Georgetown earlier this month, PC made sure to send its opponent to the foul line.
Both sided traded free throws the rest of the way with the final margin ending up three points in the Friars’ favor. Drew Edwards sealed the 70-67 win over the Blue Demons with a deflection at midcourt.
It’s the second straight win for the Friars, now 3-4 in a jumbled Big East. Right now, exactly half of the 10-team field has five league losses. It’s a group that PC was able to avoid joining thanks to timely late-game execution.
“We knew the situation we were in the last time. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. We tried to foul during the Georgetown game. It just didn’t happen,” coach Ed Cooley said. “We’ve moved past that and I think we grew up from that.”
As time was winding down, Cooley could hear the late Dave Gavitt in his ear.
“If you’re up three and there’s eight or nine seconds left, a lot of things have to happen for a team to win that game. It has to be perfect,” Cooley said. “There are times when people have fouled and the opposing team has lost. I’m just really happy our young men were able to execute a game-plan.”
After DePaul’s Devin Gage made two at the line to cut PC’s lead to one, the Blue Demons (11-8, 3-5 Big East) sent Alpha Diallo to the charity stripe with 7.1 seconds left on the clock. The Friar junior capped off a 14 for 14 free-throw display with two makes.
PC then sent Gage back to the line with 5.4 seconds flashing on the scoreboard. DePaul coach Dave Leitao thought about letting Gage miss the second free throw intentionally, but Gage was once again 2 for 2 with the Blue Demons now again down by a single point.
Edwards headed to the line with 2.5 seconds left and made both. DePaul didn’t have a timeout but was probably prepared for another Friar foul. Thanks to Edwards getting his hand on a long inbounds pass as the final horn sounded, PC didn’t have to worry about that sinking feeling of the game possibly needing an additional five minutes.
Diallo led the Friars (13-7) with 20 points despite being off target from the field for the second straight game. In last Wednesday’s two-point win at Xavier, Diallo was just 4 of 13. Against DePaul, he was 3 of 14, though he also pulled down nine rebounds in 39 minutes.
Nate Watson was a model of efficiency, scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Twelve of those points came after halftime as it was clear the Friars were looking to feed their big man on a day when the outside shot wasn’t there. The Friars were just 4 of 17 on 3-pointers including a 1 for 8 showing in the second half.
That one second-half make from downtown came from Edwards and was the result of a timely feed from Watson, who flicked the ball to the left wing as his momentum from DePaul’s double team continued to carry him out of bounds. The splash from Edwards helped give the Friars some breathing room at 62-57 with four minutes remaining.
“Last year, I think I had a total of three assists for the season,” said Watson, who as a freshman actually had four assists. “I think I’m doing better with my passing.”
Edwards was in the right spot.
“For Nate to push it out like that, I was fortunate to be open and knock down the shot,” said Edwards, who ended up with 13 points and helped PC’s bench outscore DePaul’s by a hefty (26-6) margin.
“That was game, set, match,” Cooley said about the sequence that featured Watson and Edwards.
PC was able to extend its lead to 66-60 after Edwards spun the ball up and in with 2:12 left. It was a bit dicey after Watson was called for an offensive foul and DePaul’s Max Strus was fouled while attempting a 3 with 1:41 left. Strus made all three free throws and DePaul went back on offense after Diallo got swallowed up while trying to get to the rim.
DePaul had two great looks at a potential game-tying 3, the second one the result of the Friars’ inability to snatch a defensive rebound. Both times, the Blue Demons drew nothing but iron. From there, it became a free-throw contest. Normally, that’s been a cause of concern for the Friars, but not on this day. They ended up 22 for 26.
Appearing in his first game since Dec. 7, freshman A.J. Reeves sparked the Friars with three 3-pointers in the first-half as part of an 11-point performance. His ability to make shots helped ignite the Friars, who in the first half led by as many as 13 points. DePaul was able to make a push to get to within striking distance at halftime at 33-27.
The Blue Demons tied the game in the first minute of the second half behind a three-point play and a 3-pointer from the same player (Femi Olujobi) but never went ahead.
After another Big East game that wasn’t decided until very late, Edwards said, “It seems like every game is coming down to a few possessions. That’s why it’s so important to make great decisions and keep on repeating what you do in practice. You become more familiar and that allows you to keep on playing.”
For the game, PC shot just 38.6 percent. While that final total may not look appealing from a glitz and glamour perspective, Cooley noted “At the end of the day, did you win or lose? That’s how you’re judged. Winning is winning.” … Cooley went tieless and wore a stylish pair of Michael Jordan Nike sneakers as part of college basketball’s Coaches vs. Cancer initiative. “It was so comfortable. My feet feel like they’re floating on ice, but let’s not lose fact of why (the wardrobe included sneakers). Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases around,” said Cooley, who says the plan is to auction off the sneakers he wore Sunday. “We just want to bring awareness to it.” … Sunday’s attendance was 12,009 and included kids from Providence public schools as part of the annual National Grid Hoops for the Stars program. It’s the third Dunk crowd of the season that’s featured 12,000 or better. … Singers from West Warwick’s Deering Middle School performed the national anthem. … PC will hit the road for the next two games before returning home for a Feb. 6 game against Georgetown. The two-game road swing includes visits to Seton Hall on Wednesday and DePaul on Saturday.