There were times it was pretty, others that were head-scratching and while the Villanova Wildcats were resilient — coming back twice when it looked like Providence was on the brink of pulling away and burying them — the Friars had an answer for every counter punch and Villanova run.
The Friars weathered the storm and a couple of momentum-changing runs, before ultimately pulling away and hanging on to an 85-72 win at the Amica Mutual Pavilion on Saturday night.
“Thought Providence came out and really set the tone with how hard they played and how tough they were,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “We just never recovered.
“We were just playing against a team that was more into the things they were looking to do and they just executed better than we did. They played extremely hard first five minutes or so, really set the tone physically, on the glass and just got whatever they wanted. It was hard to recover from.”
While Villanova was able to piece together runs at times to climb back into the game, it was unable to produce an answer for Ed Croswell, who surpassed the 1,000-point plateau and finished with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting, with 10 rebounds and a block, leading the charge to protect the Friars’ unbeaten record at home.
Providence coach Ed Cooley made some worthwhile adjustments, and the Friars also shot an improved 58.3% in the second half, including a 5-of-11 (45.5%) clip from long range, highlighted by a Steph Curry-range three by Devin Carter with two minutes to go that served as a deflating dagger.
At first, it didn’t look like it’d be close. The Wildcats started slowly after opening tip, while the Friars had them in early trouble, heating up and doubling up on the ‘Cats at one point. Providence led by as high as 14, hustling to rebounds, getting stops and ultimately swishing in plenty of shots in its hot start.
Villanova was able to settle back in, mustering an 8-0 run to chip away at the lead. Brendan Hausen sank a deep three just seconds before the halftime buzzer, giving the ‘Cats a bit of momentum going into the break, as they dealt with a more manageable 36-31 deficit to the Friars.
“We started to pick it up a little bit, started to play a little bit harder,” Neptune said. “A lot of credit to our bench, those guys gave us a big lift, but you go on the road and start a game like that against a really good team — it’s tough.”
A steal-and-score by Cam Whitmore topped an extended 22-7 run that stretched from the closing minutes of the first half into the first few minutes of the second half, giving the ‘Cats their first lead of the game, a 40-39 edge with 17:09 remaining in the game. The advantage didn’t last long though, as back-to-back threes by Noah Locke and Devin Carter helped the Friars settle down.
Those consecutive baskets helped spark a 10-1 run that allowed Providence to regain the lead and rebuild the margin into double figures. In the meantime, the ‘Cats only made one of their next 11 shots following the Whitmore dunk.
Villanova didn’t go away quietly though and started to string together momentum down the stretch. A 10-2 run over a two-minute blitz brought the ‘Cats back within one possession.
That would be the closest they would get. Providence never relinquished the lead the remainder of the way and the gap widened back into double figures in the final moments, as the Friars completed the regular season series sweep.
The Wildcats’ offense stagnated and got stonewalled in multiple one-on-one possessions.
“We came back and continued to play hard,” Neptune said. “You can never get satisfied. You can’t take the foot off the pedal for a second. ... There were a couple of key possessions where we just couldn’t get stops and that really hurt.”
For Villanova, Eric Dixon had a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds. The Wildcat big man also shot 3-of-3 from long range. Justin Moore added 17 points and four assists. Mark Armstrong had 10 points, four boards and one steal. Caleb Daniels had 11 points, but shot just 4-of-14 overall and 1-of-7 from deep. He did grab seven boards. Cam Whitmore finished with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting, all five of his misses were from beyond the arc.
The ‘Cats were cold from deep, finishing just 8-of-29 (27.6%) as a team.
Aside from Croswell’s big double-double, Bryce Hopkins also had a strong all-around game for Providence. He played every single minute, amassing 19 points, 12 boards, four steals, two blocks and two assists. Noah Locke overcame early foul trouble and finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Devin Carter added 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in the winning effort.
The loss breaks Villanova’s three-game winning streak and the ‘Cats deep back down below-.500. Villanova is now 13-14 overall, and 7-9 in Big East play. It returns to action on Tuesday night at the Cintas Center for a 6:30 p.m. ET game against Xavier.