Best Season in 25 Years Has Come to An End
Men’s Basketball Wrap-Up
Will Murphy ’23
What a ride. The Providence College Men’s Basketball Team won close game after close game this year, captivating fans across the country. Although their season came to an end following their defeat to the Kansas University Jayhawks in the Sweet 16, this season will be remembered fondly by many for a long time.
It was a season of firsts for the Friars, most notably the first-ever Big East Regular Season Championship win for Providence in their 43 years as members of the conference. Their 27 wins were one away from a program-best, and their 14 conference wins surpassed their previous best by two. If not for an untimely COVID pause in the middle of the season, both of these numbers could have been added to. The Friars were among the nation’s best at closing out tight games, which is a credit not only to the players, but also to the job that head coach Ed Cooley has done. Last weekend, Cooley was named the Naismith College Coach of the Year for the 2021-22 season. Experience was key for Providence, as their starting lineup was one of the oldest in the country, consisting of three graduate transfers, a fifth-year senior, and a senior.
The Friars started the year off hot, picking up several key wins in non-conference play including wins at the University of Wisconsin, at home against Texas Tech University, and at home against in-state rival University of Rhode Island. Excitement built with each win as fans started to believe that something special could be brewing at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. By the time conference play was kicking off, Providence was receiving votes as one of the top 25 teams in the country. However, the road ahead was not an easy one for the Friars, who were scheduled to play two of the top 25 teams in the nation in their first two Big East games, but they were up to the challenge.
Providence knocked off the University of Connecticut on the road and Seton Hall University at home, two teams respectively ranked 20th and 15th in the country. After winning handily at DePaul University, Providence was dealt their first loss in conference play by Marquette University, and many wondered how they would respond. The resiliency and experience shone through in their next outing against St. John’s University, as they bounced back with a solid ten-point win at home.
Unfortunately, the Friars had to postpone their next three games due to COVID issues within the program. Providence responded admirably to the adversity, rattling off seven consecutive wins, two of which were against ranked opponents.
Jared Bynum ’23 knocked down the game-winning shot against Xavier University as the buzzer sounded. The following game was a memorable one, in which the Friars took on Marquette University a day later than scheduled because of a monstrous blizzard. Providence battled back in that game with the help of the electric atmosphere, despite the treacherous conditions.
That stretch of seven straight wins perfectly set up a showdown between two of the top 10 teams in the country at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center: Providence and Villanova University. Although the Friars came up short in that game, the showing was still impressive, with the team putting up 84 points against one of the best teams and defenses in the country.
After their battle with Villanova, Providence would have to face Butler University on the road without star senior guard Al Durham ’22 because of a back injury. Despite falling behind early, the Friars displayed impressive resilience in an overtime victory, maintaining their spot atop the conference standings. Providence then took on Xavier, looking for the season sweep and was given all they could handle by this tough team. The Friars were taken to triple-overtime in a game of the year candidate but pulled it out in the end.
This win put the team in the position to clinch their first-ever Big East regular-season championship with a win in their upcoming matchup with Creighton University. Providence took control early and coasted to a comfortable 20-point victory in a storybook ending for the seniors on their senior night. Providence closed the regular season with a hard-fought loss against Villanova but was heading to Madison Square Garden with the first seed in the Big East Tournament.
The Friars were immediately challenged after arriving in New York with a tough game against Butler in the quarterfinals. Al Durham ’22 nailed a clutch three with just over 30 seconds remaining to put Providence ahead and advance to face Creighton in the semifinals. Creighton came out hot in the semifinals, and Providence was never able to catch up.
Providence then turned their attention to the NCAA tournament to prepare for their sixth trip under coach Cooley in his 11 seasons at the helm. They were awarded the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, with South Dakota State University awaiting them with one of the most high-powered offenses in the country. Coach Cooley did a tremendous job game-planning for South Dakota State’s offense, and Justin Minaya ’22 put on a defensive display against star guard Baylor Scheierman. Providence held South Dakota State to their lowest offensive output of the season and advanced to face 12-seed Richmond University.
The Friars started fast and built a comfortable lead early, shooting the ball efficiently from behind the arc, especially Noah Horchler ’22, who shot four of six from three. Providence kept their foot on the gas and won by 28, the largest margin of victory in an NCAA tournament game in program history.
The win sent the Friars to their first Sweet 16 in 25 years, where one-seed Kansas University awaited. Providence could not get any shots to drop early, but their defense kept them in the game, going into the half down nine. All year Providence proved they were a resilient bunch, not afraid to go head-to-head with the best of the best, and this trait shone through in the second half. They clawed their way back little by little, eventually taking their first lead of the night with a Horchler bucket with just under six minutes remaining. Kansas responded with a run of their own, and, despite an admirable effort, Providence was unable to overcome the Jayhawks in the end.
This team will be remembered as one of the best in Providence College’s history, and rightfully so.
Men’s Basketball Continues to Shine
Friars Complete Strong Winter Break
Liam Tormey ’22
Winter break came in the middle of December for the students of Providence College, but the Men’s Basketball Team continued their hot start to the season.
The Friars started Big East conference play on Dec. 18, the last day of finals, against the No. 20-ranked University of Connecticut. Before conference play began, coach Ed Cooley’s team was 10-1 and looking to start off conference play on the right foot.
The Harry A. Gampel Pavilion would host old rivals in the Huskies and Friars to kick off conference play. PC was looking to win their sixth consecutive game and, thanks to the help of AJ Reeves ’22 and his 16 points, the Friars were victorious in a 57-53 game.
Reeves, a senior, went 4-8 from three-point territory and was crucial in opening up their biggest lead of the first half where they led 31-22 after 20 minutes of play, and Reeves was responsible for 12 of them.
Ed Croswell ’22 would add 11 points and four rebounds, while the other big man Nate Watson ’22GS had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Jared Bynum ’23 returned to play after missing four games with a leg injury, and he would be a spark off the bench adding nine points and six rebounds.
After the game, Ed Cooley said, “We knew coming on the road would be a challenge for us. I couldn’t be more proud of our men.” This would be the best start to PC’s season under Cooley since the 2015-16 season, a year the Friars reached No. 8 in the polls and won an NCAA Tournament game.
After a statement win against a ranked opponent, the Friars were looking to extend their six-game winning streak 11 days later when they would host No. 15-ranked Seton Hall University Pirates.
In between the games, the Friars would be ranked No. 21 in the national polls, the first time since February of 2016. Since this week, the team has kept their Top 25 standing.
The Pirates came to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center following the Christmas period and a time when they were dealing with several players in COVID-19 protocols. Seton Hall would be without Ike Obiago and Tyrese Samuel, and the Friars took advantage.
Noah Horchler ’22GS recorded his fifth double-double of the season, dropping home game-highs of 17 points and 13 rebounds in the 70-65 victory.
Nate Watson tallied 14 points and became just the 18th player in Providence College history to record 1,500 or more career points.
The Friars have five graduates this season and two seniors, and after the game, Cooley said, “We have a veteran group… You can go into every game expecting to win when you have an older group.”
A few days later, the Friars would travel to Chicago for a contest with DePaul University. From the very beginning, Cooley’s squad was ready to play and controlled every aspect of the game. At halftime, the Friars were up 42-17 after scoring 22 unanswered points. The Blue Demons were unable to overcome the deficit and the Friars defeated DePaul, 70-53.
Another game and another contribution for the veteran team. It was contributions from two transfers that helped the Friars to their eighth consecutive victory. Indiana University transfer Al Durham ’22GS and University of South Carolina transfer Justin Minaya ’22GS both had double-digit scoring numbers.
Minaya has been great defensively for the Friars and continues to guard every opponent’s best player.
Durham would end the game with 17 points while Minaya finished with a double-double, 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
After the game, Cooley said, “We were able to set the tone early. I thought we played a really good game today.” The Friars were now 13-1 and 3-0 in Big East play.
Then, the Friars traveled to play a desperate Marquette Golden Eagles team, and it was one everyone wanted to forget.
PC committed two turnovers on their first three possessions and the Golden Eagles were up to a 6-0 lead. A couple of minutes later, the Friars closed a double-digit deficit down to four, but then Marquette went on a 20-0 run and never looked back. At halftime, the Friars were down by 20 and then lost the game by 32, with a final score of 88-56.
The only positive light from the game was Nate Watson setting the record for the most games in program history with 137.
Cooley was still upbeat about his team after the blowout and before Saturday’s game against St. John’s University, he said, “I’ll have my team ready to play.”
The Red Storm came to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center that weekend and although the Friars trailed at halftime by three, an explosive second half thanks to Watson’s 18 of final 22 points, the Friars got back to winning ways with an 83-73 victory.
This win was Ed Cooley’s 300th career victory. He was emotional after the game saying, “When you do something that you love, you’re at a place that you love, and you work with people that give you the opportunity to do this, it’s amazing.”
The Friars were feeling good heading into a big stretch of games, but COVID-19 ran rampant in the team before the matchup with Creighton University.
Three straight games would be canceled for the Friars due to COVID-19 within the program, and Coach Cooley admitted he tested positive along with some players and staff. The Friars would be off for 12 days before playing again on Jan. 20 against Georgetown University, a game which was rescheduled from earlier in the season after the Hoyas had COVID-19 within their program.
It was the first week of the second semester and the first game back for the Friars after the mini-hiatus. The Friars were the No. 21-ranked team, and the Hoyas gave them everything they had.
Ed Croswell recorded a season-high 15 points, going perfect from the field with seven shots taken. Al Durham had 15 second half points, and Noah Horchler added 14 points. The Friars won 83-75.
With different players stepping up every game, Coach Cooley has said, “Our team is very close and connected. This team has really bought into their roles.”
A noon tip-off against Butler University last Sunday saw the Friars at the top of the Big East standings. The team was 15-2 and 5-1 in Big East play for the first time since 2003-04 and had won 10 out of their last 11 games. They also went into the contest against the Bulldogs 11-0 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
A back-and-forth game is the tale of almost every Big East game, and this one was no different. After the Friars were up six at the half, the Bulldogs clawed their way back and took the lead in the second.
Once again, thanks to the force of Ed Croswell and Nate Watson who continue to get better, the Friars remained perfect at home with a 69-62 victory. The Friars improved to 16-2 for the first time since the 1977-78 season and 6-1 in conference play for the first time ever.
This win was Cooley’s 210th, and he surpassed the great Dave Gavitt for second place in all-time wins as Friar head coach.
There is a lot to be excited for with this team, but this is just the start, and Cooley knows it: “We’ve still got a long way to go, but where we are today is a credit to the players.”
Men’s Basketball Season Preview
PC Hoops Looks to Silence Critics
Joseph Quirk ’23
The Providence College Men’s Basketball Team had a disappointing last season, finishing 12-14 and failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament, let alone make it past the first round of the Big East tournament. The Friars entered last season with high expectations, considering how they nearly made the NCAA tournament in the 2019-2020 season.
Much has changed in the past two years, particularly the loss of some crucial players. Star guard David Duke Jr., for example, left the Friars after last season to pursue the NBA. Duke went undrafted before making the Brooklyn Nets summer league team and earning himself a two-way contract with the championship favorites.
Some things remain the same, though. Two players that stayed to play are center Nate Watson ’22 and guard AJ Reeves ’22. The returners expect to feature prominent roles in the offense with Watson working down low in the post and Reeves creating spacing on the floor.
At this past Big East Media Day, Watson was chosen as a Big East All-Conference first team selection. The preseason polls, however, had the Friars as the seventh team in the conference. Reeves said, “I think Nate is one of the most consistent bigs in the country.” Head coach Ed Cooley said, “I feel like my wife gave birth to Nate, he’s been with us so long.”
This is a big year, particularly for Reeves, as the former four-star recruit looks to have his most prominent role in the offense since arriving in Friartown. He has been inconsistent his first three seasons, flashing a brilliant shot in some games and becoming ice-cold in others. With the departure of Duke and Watson, consistency beyond the arch from Reeves will be a necessity. He will have some help with moving the offense as point guards Alyn Breed ’24 and Jared Bynum ’22 return, as well as graduate student forward Noah Horchler ’21GS and senior big man Ed Croswell ’22.
Breed looks to build off a very promising freshman season in which he averaged five points-per-game along with one assist and two rebounds. He has flashed potential to be a solid scorer who can move the ball well, and now having a full offseason and the experience of Big East basketball last season, it is reasonable to expect a good jump in production from him this season.
Bynum is a lot more experienced than Breed, and is a key piece in this offense. The redshirt junior was a massive part of last year’s offense as he played the main distributor and set up his teammates well. The point guard who can distribute the ball smartly is key, and that was never more apparent than last season. Last year, Bynum was a newcomer but made an instant impact. However, a mid-season injury took him out of action for a couple weeks and the offense looked drastically different.
Croswell was also a newcomer last season, and he had some struggles. The transfer from La Salle University was advertised as one of the best rebounders in the country, but his 1.9 rebounds-per-game last year showed he may have struggled to translate his game to the tougher Big East conference.
If the Friars are going to be good this year, they are going to need him to step up. Having an anchor that can come in off the bench and allow Watson to rest is going to be very important.
Another player the Friars will need this year is returner Horchler. The grad student forward adds a different fold to the offense with his ability to stretch the floor.
One thing this offense has clearly lacked the last few seasons is consistent three-point shooting, and towards the end of last year, Horchler flashed the ability to be a good catch and shoot perimeter player. An athletic forward at 6’8” and 220 pounds, he also has some size to him. With the way the game has evolved, having big men who can shoot is becoming increasingly important.
While all these returners are going to be very important to the success of this team, the newcomers are going to be very important as well.
The rest of this roster is brand new, composed of freshmen and transfers. As mentioned earlier, star guard Duke left to pursue an NBA opportunity. But Cooley and the Friars also lost Greg Gantt ’23, Kris Monroe ’23, Jimmy Nichols Jr. ’23, and Jyare Davis ’24, who all left through the transfer portal this offseason.
The transfer portal did not just take, however. Justin Minaya ’22 came from the portal via the University of South Carolina. In his previous two seasons at USC, Minaya he was about a seven point-per-game scorer, adding about six rebounds and one block per game to his per-game totals. He looks to have had pretty solid production for a power-five team and should be a nice piece to add.
Their other transfer is graduate guard Al Durham ’22. In Durham’s senior season at the University of Indiana, he averaged 11.3 points, 2.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and .5 steals per game.
He was a leader there and the Friars got a good look at him when he went off and helped lead the Hoosiers to an early season out-of-conference win against the Friars at the Maui Jim Invitational.
The Friars also brought in a ton of young talent to help rebuild this roster.
Freshman guard Matteus Case ’25 is a two-star recruit from Canada and appears to be able to shoot the ball decently from a distance. Freshman guard Luke Fonts ’25 is the brother of graduate walk-on Andrew Fonts ’22GS. Legend Geeter ’25 is a big freshman forward, standing at 6’7” and 220 pounds. He likely will be buried on the depth chart early in his career with all the experienced power forwards in this team, but the former three-star recruit should be a big piece of this team’s future.
Former three-star forward Rafael Castro ’25 and freshman Kieran O’Haire ’25 round out the recruiting victories Cooley claimed this offseason.
Cooley expects a competitive year in college basketball, especially with this extra year of eligibility. He said at Big East Media Day, “College basketball will be in a good place this year. It should be as competitive as any.”
Cooley hopes the Friars will be competing on the highest stage too, considering it has been about three years since their last appearance in the NCAA tournament. But he is not discouraged by the early hate the Friars are getting.
“It’s what they think. How true is it? Who knows? I think it will all balance out. As a coach, if you’re worried about where you’re picked early, you’re in it for the wrong reasons,” said Cooley.
He continued, “You balance your team with confidence, inspire them to be better than people think and kind of go from there. Don’t look at it as a negative. It’s just somebody else’s opinion.”