The head coach may have been out, but the starting point guard was back after a lengthy absence.
Comings and goings aside, the Providence Friars have now won two games in a row for the first time since late December. They also completed a season sweep of DePaul on Saturday night, winning by a 57-47 count.
The Friars took the court without coach Ed Cooley. He was declared a scratch with a non-COVID illness with 30 minutes to go before the tip. Assistant coach Jeff Battle moved one chair over and pushed enough correct buttons to come away with a victory as part of Providence’s late-season push.
"He just wasn’t feeling well. He wasn’t himself. He said, ‘Jeff, you’ve got ‘em tonight,’” said Battle, adding that Cooley was present at Wintrust Arena but watched the game isolated in his own room.
A video posted to the Friar basketball team’s Twitter account showed just how pleased they were to come away with a win that came with Battle stepping into the breach in the last minute.
“We’ve got a great group of guys. It was good because we got the win. I kind of knew [the jubilant scene inside the locker room] was coming,” Battle said. “I went to our leaders [beforehand] and said. ‘Guys, I’m calling the shots, but it’s a collaborative thing.’ I’m just really proud of our effort.”
The ball didn’t go in a ton for the Friars, who shot 35%. DePaul was even worse at 30%. Only one player in a Blue Demons uniform scored in double figures.
‘Today wasn’t really the prettiest game offensively, but we gave a good effort on the defensive end,” said junior guard David Duke, who scored a game-high 17 points (on 5 of 13 shooting) and committed five of PC’s 15 turnovers.
Duke also pulled down a career-best 13 rebounds, a career-high. Along with Noah Horchler (11 rebounds, four clocks), Duke and the Friars shored up the rebounding on a night when Nate Watson was mainly a non-factor (four points, six rebounds, four blocks).
“Noah, the stats say it all. Defensively he was terrific today. I think his blocks and his physicality changed the game,” said Duke before addressing his big night on the glass. “Sometimes the ball falls in my hands, but coach always reminds us that guards have to rebound."
The Friars welcomed back point guard Jared Bynum, who checked in at 16:26 of the second half. His impact on the game was minimal (seven scoreless minutes, one assist, one turnover), yet he was finally back after not appearing in a game since Jan. 2 with a groin injury.
‘It was great to see (Bynum) back getting some game minutes and getting his legs back under him,” Duke said.
Asked if he could have played Bynum more, Battle said, “I felt like if the game got close we would need his ball handling. I wanted to preserve him. Hopefully, we build his minutes up as we go along.”
The first half saw the Friars dig in defensively, holding DePaul to 37.5% shooting. Besides A.J. Reeves (13 points) and Duke, the offense largely ran on empty. Watson had a hard time getting into gear as the Blue Demons (3-9, 1-9 Big East) ran multiple defenders at him. He missed all six shots and attempted zero free throws.
One would think that PC (11-10, 7-8 Big East) would be in deep trouble with Watson struggling, yet the Friars managed to pull into halftime with a slim edge (30-28). PC’s difficulties through 20 minutes included 37.5% from the floor and zero points over the final 3:45.
It remained an offensive barnburner well into the second half. PC made some adjustments to its ball-screen coverage that proved to limit DePaul’s success down low. The Blue Demons went from scoring 18 points in the first half to 10 after halftime.
“It’s a credit to our group making that adjustment on the fly,” Battle said.
PC was in a good spot when Watson scored his first points to put the visitors up 55-42 with 3:58 left. DePaul shot 23.6% in the second half and 30% for the contest.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03