Big East supremacy will be at stake Tuesday when No. 15 Villanova visits No. 11 Providence.
“I’m excited about it. I’m real excited about it,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. However, he cautioned, “I don’t think you make it any bigger or smaller than the last game we just played.”
That last game was tougher than expected, as the heavily favored Friars (21-2, 11-1 Big East) struggled to get past improving DePaul, needing overtime to beat the visiting Blue Demons 76-73.
Cooley credited the 12,810 in attendance for lending their voices to the cause, and one would expect an even more raucous crowd when the Wildcats and veteran coach Jay Wright come to Rhode Island.
“We were dead in the water,” Cooley said. “We couldn’t have gotten over the hump without this crowd.”
The 11th-year Providence coach said Villanova (19-6, 12-3) is the model program of the conference.
“They’ve earned that right. Jay’s earned that right,” Cooley said. “His kids have earned that right. It’s going to be a very physical game. We’ve got to be able to execute.”
Of course, the Wildcats are used to being circled on opponents’ schedules.
Villanova has won six of its last eight road games against Providence and is riding a three-game winning streak of its own.
The Wildcats overcame a seven-point, second-half deficit against visiting Seton Hall on Saturday in classic Villanova fashion, with near-flawless execution on both offense and defense in the final minutes to win 73-67.
Wright was most impressed with the performances of Justin Moore (16 points) and Collin Gillespie (10 points, four assists), both of whom are nursing ankle injuries. Gillespie bounced back from being held scoreless in a win at St. John’s, the first time that had happened since he was a freshman in March 2018.
“Collin and Justin aren’t 100 percent,” Wright said. “They just purely gutted it out today. It was just a great team effort. I’m proud of the guys.”
Gillespie had a key assist in the final stages, setting up Brandon Slater for the go-ahead basket with 1:26 to play.
“I know he’s not close to 100 percent, but making those plays at the end, that’s what we take pride in,” Wright said. “That’s what guys before him have done and he continues that tradition.”
The Friars will look for big plays from their point guard, Jared Bynum (11.6 points, 4.2 assists). Bynum has improved his 3-point shooting from 11.9 percent last season — his first at Providence after transferring from Saint Joseph’s — to a lofty 46 percent this season.
Cooley made it clear that Bynum’s hard work in the offseason has silenced the critics.
“He’s making a believer of himself, first and foremost,” Cooley said, “and he’s making a lot of people look dumb, and I’m really proud of that.
“He’s doing at an elite level,” the coach added. “Not a good level — an elite level.”
Inside, the matchup to watch will be between Providence’s Nate Watson (13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds) and Villanova’s Eric Dixon (10.0 points, 6.7 rebounds). Dixon’s prowess has caused Wright to play more inside-out than with some of his other teams.
–Field Level Media