Tuesday night brought back memories of the 1980s, the Providence Civic Center, Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan, Ernie “Pop” Lewis, and so much more. In some respects, Tuesday night was even better than those days. Tuesday night marked the first time two Top 10 teams faced off against each other in the 44-year history of the building, now known as the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Much of the reason for that is that Providence hasn’t been ranked in the Top 10 since 1978.
Seventh-ranked Xavier provided the opposition. Sure it wasn’t John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas, Louie Carnesecca’s St. John’s Redmen, Jim Calhoun’s Connectiucut Huskies, or Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orangemen. But who cares? Providence had just knocked off 4th-ranked Villanova on the road in their previous game. A second consecutive win over a Top 10 team would be monumental for the program and launch the Friars into the rarefied air of college basketball royalty usually reserved for teams like Duke and North Carolina.
Despite the 8:30 start on a weeknight, the crowd was amped and ready. Coach Ed Cooley even took some time an hour before the game to sit in the student section and schmooze with the early arriving crowd. This was what Cooley dreamed of when he took over the job almost five years ago. He was winning high school state championships at Central High School in Providence during those Pitino days of the 1980s. He was part of those exuberant crowds that used to attend those frenetic games at the old Civic Center. His dream was for those days to return. He wanted Providence to become Friartown again.
And it has. Thanks in large part to Cooley’s effervescent personality. Thanks in even larger part to having the best college basketball player in the country in Kris Dunn. How often has Providence been able to say that?
The electric atmosphere in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center created some sloppy, yet exhilarating play to start the game. Xavier busted out to a 7-0 lead, but Providence responded with a 13-0 run in three minutes of play that had the Providence crowd roaring to a crescendo. Many observers noted they had never heard the building that loud for any event.
Sadly, those three minutes would be the highlight of the game for the Friars. Providence struggled with their three-point shot, hitting only one of their first nineteen attempts. The Friars had no answers for Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone defense. Providence’s inability to drain outside shots is a big concern if they hope to play deep into the NCAA tournament in March.
Xavier, on the other hand, shot 50.8% from the field. They had five players in double digits scoring. Providence only had the usual two, Ben Bentil (25 points) and Kris Dunn (16 points).
Xavier would open up a 17-point lead with 7:22 left to go in the game. Providence would have one last rally in them as they would cut the lead to three with 1:19 left, but J.P. Macura would hit a dagger three-pointer in transition as it appeared Xavier head coach Chris Mack was attempting to get a timeout.
Providence would lose 75-68. The loss at home drops their home record to 2-3 in Big East Play. They are 3-0 on the road. The good news for the Friars is they won’t have to play at home in the NCAA tournament.
The Friars (17-4) next play at Georgetown (13-8) on Saturday night at 8 p.m. The game can be seen on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).