Providence, desperately needing to get back on course, will play four of its next five at home
PIC: PC Athletics

By Jake Zimmer
Twitter: @JakeZimmer12
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After losing three straight – two quite literally at the buzzer – the Friars season appeared to be at a rocky crossroads.

Their first matchup against #11 Creighton was ripped from their hands – Christian Bishop walked into the paint in what may very well be the first buzzer beater dunk in recent Big East memory.

Just a week later, Xavier’s Colby Jones hit a walk-off three-pointer to lead the Musketeers to a 74-73 victory.

After dropping a ten-point contest to Marquette later that week, Providence fell to 7-6 overall, and 3-4 against Big East opponents. Their next two opponents offered no solace, either – two powerhouses in #11 Creighton (for the second time) and #3 Villanova were next on the docket.

“We’re not earning wins,” said Ed Cooley after the Friars came out on the losing end of a 79-69 dog fight to Marquette at the Fiserv Forum on January 12th. “We’re good enough to stay in games, but we’re not disciplined enough to win.”

Clearly, the struggle so far for Cooley’s 10th unique Providence team has been developing other offensive contributors whose jerseys don’t read “Duke” or “Watson.”  It’s hard to find a more top-heavy offensive contingent in the Big East than the dynamic duo; as of Saturday, David Duke and Nate Watson have scored more than half of the Friars points this season (538 of the 1038 total points).  Cooley has openly acknowledged that Duke & Watson can only do so much for the team: “He’s (Duke) emptying the tank. His teammates need to help him out.”

“I’ve never coached a team that wasn’t tough emotionally, mentally, and more importantly, physically,” Cooley told the media after the Marquette loss. “This team has to get to that point. If we don’t get to that point, we’re going to have a tough time surviving in the Big East.”

Providence seemed to channel some of their inner drive & motivation in a hard-fought and well-earned 74-70 win in Omaha for revenge against #11 Creighton last week. They jumped out to a 23-8 lead in the first few minutes, and would hold the lead for the rest of the game after holding off a last-minute run from the Jays.

“You have to continue to drive hope and inspiration into your guys,” said Cooley. “When you have players like Nate and David on the floor, you are going to give yourself an opportunity night in and night out.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to take down the Villanova Wildcats the next weekend – they were outscored in the 2nd half and lost 71-56, falling to 1-4 in their last five.

If there were any time for the Friars to return to the Creative Capital for a homestand, it’d be now. And the Friars will get that chance in this upcoming stretch of games.

Over the next three weeks, Providence will host four of the next five contests at Alumni Hall, their on-campus gymnasium that’s currently in its first stint as the home of the Friars since the 1971-72 season.  They’ll play host to Marquette on Wednesday 1/27 before travelling to Washington, D.C. to take on the Georgetown Hoyas.  They’ll then return to Providence to play Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Connecticut.

When asked of the toughest places to play in college basketball, many Division I players will identify the Dunkin’ Donuts Center close to the top of the list.  While its capacity is just over 12,000, its acoustics & compact layout provide a top-notch college basketball environment for the home team…and a daunting task for the other.  While “The Dunk” will be off-limits for the Friars this year due to its use as a Rhode Island government-operated COVID-19 testing facility, they’ve enjoyed similar success at their home gym this season. 

The Friars are 4-1 at home – had the defense made a stop against Creighton on Jan. 2, they very well could’ve ended up undefeated.  Providence also defeated three ranked opponents at home last year – Creighton, Seton Hall, and Marquette all dropped their contests in Providence during the 2019-20 campaign.

Combine the Friars’ hometown successes with Ed Cooley’s desire to steer his team back on the right course, and you may just get what you’ve bargained for.

“I’m deathly afraid to fail,” said Cooley.  “I always look at losing as the worst thing ever – it eats my guts out. But I know it’s part of the process.  My whole thing is to put other people ahead of yourself. When you do that, you allow yourself the vulnerability to learn. 

“Everyone wants to have the answer, everyone wants to think they’re right. I just want to win.” The Friars need to win, and there’s no better time than a 4-game stretch in their home gym.