A pivotal moment in both the Friars’ and Wildcats’ seasons yielded feathers in the cap for Providence. Ed Croswell was a big reason why. PIC: Providence Athletics
The last time the Providence Friars swept Villanova in a regular season was nearly ten years ago to the date. The Friars - laden with talent like rookie-year Kris Dunn, Co-Most-Improved Player Kadeem Batts, and all-conference standout Bryce Cotton - had proverbially “upset” a Villanova team that had high expectations all year.
Of course, Villanova went on to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament that year, while Providence was on the outside-looking-in, competing in the NIT…they eventually lost to Baylor in the quarterfinals. Despite the endings to the season, the Friars enjoyed the bragging rights.
Naturally, for the Friars to avenge Villanova was top of mind for them on Saturday, and they delivered.
Providence was all-business in the first twelve minutes. The Friars cruised to what seemed like an easy 24-12 lead, on the strength of shooting nearly 65% overall from the field, sinking 9 of the 14 shots they took. Ed Croswell’s high-percentage looks earned him a quick seven, while a three and a trip to the line shortly after from Bryce Hopkins put him on the board with six. Villanova kept it competitive on the strength of seven from Justin Moore and six from Eric Dixon , but the Friars went into the locker room with a 36-31 lead.
Between the end of the first half and the start of the second, Villanova cruised to a 22-7 run. A quick four from Justin Moore brought him to 11, and a trip to the free throw line cut Providence’s lead to 1. That was the closest Villanova would get for the rest of the game; Hopkins converted a three-point play, Devin Carter slammed it home, and Ed Croswell grabbed a three-point play of his own to give the Friars a 9-point lead to cap off a 13-4 run. The Wildcats got it back down to two after a Cam Whitmore dunk, a Dixon three-pointer, and a Caleb Daniels layup, but it was all Providence afterwards - back-to-back threes from Noah Locke and Devin Carter made it 73-65, and the Friars never looked back on their 85-72 win on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Friars also set a program record-best start to Big East play at home, eclipsing the 8-0 mark against conference opponents at the Amica Mutual Pavilion in downtown Providence.
“To be 8-0 is a credit to the team,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley after the game. “When you have 8 new players that no one knew about, that everyone speculated about, it’s a credit to the team.”
Cooley also mentioned the monumental lift playing at home gives the Friars this year. “I can’t thank our crowd enough,” he said after the game. “It’s such an advantage playing with an edgy, educated, packed house. I have goosebumps; the energy these young men get from the crowd is such a boost for us.”
While Villanova isn’t necessarily the team of old, Cooley mentioned they’re still a force to be reckoned with. “When you play Villanova, you have to be disciplined and you have take away the three-pointer. We knew they were going to go on a run, which they did. (But) I was proud of our players’ maturity and growth; we showed a lot of emotional maturity today. We moved the ball and made some timely threes.”
Bryce Hopkins, who transferred in from Kentucky and is off to the best season of his career, contributed 19 points and 12 rebounds, playing every single minute of Saturday’s contest. “They were a desperate team,” Hopkins told the media. “We won on their home court and they were trying to do the same. We just tried to be poised.”
Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune attributed their lack of offensive progress to Providence’s staunch defense - the Wildcats shot an underwhelming 40.8% from the field. “Providence played their style of basketball and executed better than us,” said Neptune. “They’re a hard team to beat and they gave us a lot to handle.”
As the attention turns to the final two weeks of regular season play, Cooley stressed the importance of continuing the Friars’ win streak at home. “If you’re gonna win the conference tournament and be a tournament team, you have to win your home games.” And with just two more on the docket for the Friars, the wind is in their sail.