By Joseph Quirk ’23
The noise was deafening. Screams and shouts coming from every corner of the sold out Dunkin’ Donuts Center, ready to watch the Providence College Friars take on rival Villanova University Wildcats. That same energy would remain for the entire game, which resulted in a close, yet devastating loss for the Friars.
“I really want to thank our crowd. Our crowd gave us every opportunity to be successful. The energy in here, I couldn’t be more blessed,” said head coach Ed Cooley after the game. The crowd showed up for the Friars team coming off two road losses to Creighton University and Seton Hall University that some believe may have killed their tournament chances. But the fans were not ready to give up on their Friars.
The game was close and physical for the entire 40 minutes. The Friars showed some improvement offensively, but a lot of the struggles that had haunted them all year came back to bite them in the end.
“That’s the Big East this year, man,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “That’s what every game has been for us. That’s what makes this league great.” The Big East has been one of the most competitive conferences in all of college basketball this season. Many believe there will be up to six of the ten member schools in the NCAA tournament this year, which has caused almost every game to be thrilling, exciting, and important. This game was no different.
Both teams felt the pressure heading into Saturday’s game. Villanova was ranked in the top-10, looking to defend their spot against a gritty PC team at home. And PC has been trying to dig themselves out of a hole since the first few weeks of their basketball season.
The young Wildcats were led by junior guard Collin Gillespie, who dominated the game. He had 18 points, four assists and seven rebounds all while shooting 50 percent from the floor and controlling the pace. Gillespie is one of the oldest and most experienced on the young Villanova team and is taking on his leadership role very well.
“I still got a year and a half left. It’s just so fun with this group, we’re all so young and everything is a learning experience for us,” said Gillespie when asked if he felt like an “old man” with such a young group. Gillespie rose to the challenge in this game, staying in for most of the second half with four fouls. “Definitely still be aggressive but be smart,” Gillespie said of his play style in the second half. “On defense and offense you just gotta be smart.”
Unlike Villanova’s offense, the Friars had another rough night shooting-wise. PC shot an abysmal 31.7 percent from the field, 13.0 from three and 77.3 from the free throw line. But that was not the only issue as turnovers also killed the team.
“[The turnovers were] as costly as we’ve had since I’ve been coaching here.” said Cooley. “For a game of that magnitude to not even get shot attempts turnovers.We try to work as much as we can on time and scoring.”
Cooley also spoke about the overall offensive struggles the team has dealt with all season. “When you look at the overall body of work of this year’s team, our offense is really struggling,” he said. “The efficiency just isn’t there.”
Cooley noted how the team runs different situations and drills in practice and that the same shots that are missing in games are falling in practice. He stressed that the team has put in the effort and has the talent and that’s why it has been such a stressful season on the coaching staff.
However, the offense showed promise and life in the first half when they utilized off ball motion, more pick-and-roll plays and had more of an intensity driving to the rim. Perhaps the brightest star who thrived for PC was Nate Watson ’21. The center had been coming back from a knee injury suffered in the preseason and had been either off the bench or on a minutes restriction for most of the season. “Nate is coming along. I’m really proud of him…today was a big day for him.”
Watson finished shooting 7-12 with 18 points, nine rebounds, and a steal. It was a very encouraging performance for the future.
The Friars play 16th-ranked Butler on the road next Saturday, followed by Creighton at home and Xavier University on the road.