By Jack Belanger ’21
With conference games less than a month away, it is easy for Friar fans to look forward to seeing the Providence College Men’s Basketball Team get another chance to upset Villanova University and Xavier University in front of the home crowd at the Dunkin’ Donut Center. After having played against weaker competition in Iona University and Fairleigh Dickinson University, teams who, to the average fan, are fairly unrecognizable.
Yet, as the calendar turned to December, the Friars had three games in a row against northeast teams that Friars fans love to hate.
On Dec. 1, the Friars faced off against in-state rival University of Rhode Island at the Dunk in front of a sellout crowd. PC was looking for revenge after the Rams snapped the Friars’ seven-game winning streak last season at the Ryan Center in Kingston, Rhode Island. Both teams have brought new faces into the rivalry as a total of six freshmen played in the game. URI also featured a new coach in David Cox after long time coach Dan Hurley left to coach at the University of Connecticut.
PC got the early jump out of the gates led by A.J. Reeves ’22. Reeves scored eight of the Friars’ first 10 points, including back-to-back threes to force URI to call an early timeout. PC controlled both ends of the court and finished the half leading URI 39-27. Reeves would lead the Friars in scoring for the day with 15 points.
Both teams struggled to score in the second half as they combined to make only ten shots. PC’s zone defense held the Rams to 20 percent shooting in the second half, while only going 1-11 from the three-point line. Cox credited PC’s physicality for forcing URI to miss some easy shots. PC’s offense was equally as bad as the Friars were able to score 20 points in the half but managed to keep the game just out of reach for URI. Head Coach Ed Cooley referenced the defensive battle as a “typical PC-URI rock fight.”
On a day when Alpha Diallo ’20 and David Duke ’22 drew most of the defensive attention, and combined for nine points, it was the under-the-radar performance from “silent assassin” Isaiah Jackson ’19RS that made the difference for the Friars. Jackson, who began the season in the starting lineup but has since been coming off the bench, played 26 minutes and gave the Friars 13 points and nine rebounds in a game where points were hard to come by.
“He is such a calming influence,” Cooley said of Jackson, “he doesn’t say much, he just produces. Whether it’s a free throw, a loose ball, a big three, he is always communicating. He’s our leader.”
URI brought a full-court press with less than five minutes left with the game still in reach, but the Friars were able to make enough plays down the stretch to win 59-50 and finish the home stand at a perfect 3-0.
Three days later, PC faced off against the Boston College Eagles who have also gotten off to a hot start this season coming into the game at 6-1. The Friars were looking to win at Chestnut Hill for the first time since 2004, when Cooley was an assistant coach for BC.
Once again, PC’s offense came out hot scoring 39 points in the first half, but struggled to slow down the Eagles who had four players score seven or more points, including nine from star player Ky Bowman, as Boston College dropped 43 in the half. Nate Watson ’21 led the Friars in scoring at the half with eight points to go along with six rebounds.
The Friars took advantage of the Eagles’ lack of size throughout the game. BC was missing their 6’11” forward Nik Popovic due to injury. PC scored 44 points in the paint as Watson had a double-double, recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds.
In the second half, BC took a seven-point lead early after a Bowman layup to make it 53-46 in favor of the Eagles with 17:03 left to go in the game. The Friars fought back to take the lead on multiple occasions as the score would go back and forth down into the final minutes of the game.
With 11 seconds to go, the Friars found themselves down 84-87 with one last chance to send the game into overtime after a Friars timeout.
With the clock running down, Duke ran the ball down the court and found Reeves coming off a screen at the top of the key for a last second three to tie the game at 87 and force overtime. Reeves finished the game with 24 points, which was the most for PC.
In overtime, the Friars had the lead for most of the five minutes and kept the lead at hand by going 9-14 at the free throw line to outscore BC 13-8 and win the game 100-95, the Friars first true road victory of the year.
The Friars, now 7-2, will take on the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen on Friday, Dec. 7 at home. The Friars lost in Amherst last season 72-63.