PROVIDENCE (AP)—Providence coach Tim Welsh saw Jerel McNeal missing from Marquette’s lineup and figured he had an answer for the Golden Eagles’ speed.
“We can go to another strength, and that’s power,” Welsh said after the Friars outmuscled No. 15 Marquette for a 74-59 victory on Thursday night in the Big East opener for both teams. “They have three terrific guards. I said, ‘Let’s flip that and go with three power guys.”’
Herbert Hill had 23 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots, and Geoff McDermott had 11 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for Providence (11-3). Weyinmi Efejuku added 18 points and 10 boards as the Friars played their third consecutive game without Sharaud Curry, the team leader in points and assists per game, who was suspended for violating team rules.
“Good teams are built around a lot of good players, not just one,” Welsh said, adding that Curry will miss one more game, against Seton Hall on Saturday, and will return on Jan. 13 against Louisville. “He made a mistake. He paid his penalty.”
Marquette (13-3) was without McNeal, its No. 2 scorer, who banged heads with Wesley Matthews in practice on Monday.
“He brings a lot of toughness and fierceness to the table … such a huge part of our toughness package,” Coach Tom Crean said. “Providence is a very aggressive, tough-minded team—as is the rest of the Big East. We’ve got to join that party.”
Crean said McNeal would be evaluated daily.
“As Tommy said, ‘It’s a wild business,”’ Welsh said. “They lost a very good player and so did we. I guess it evens out.”
Matthews scored 14 points and Dominic James scored 12 for the Golden Eagles. But Matthews was 6-for-18 from the field and James was 3-for-11—going just 1-for-8 from 3-point range—as Marquette shot just 31.1 percent.
“We got the looks we wanted,” said Matthews, who went to the hospital for precautionary reasons after the rebounding drill collision with McNeal. “We just weren’t making shots.”
Marquette fell behind by 12 points in the first half and was down nine at halftime, but got within 39-34 with 17:11 left. Providence scored the next six points to make it 45-34, then added a 7-0 run midway through the second half to open a 56-41 lead.
Marquette tried to come back with 3-pointers but missed often, going just 4-of-23 from beyond the arc in all. The Friars also had a 42-25 rebounding advantage and blocked nine shots, thanks mostly to Hill.
“He’s thinking he can score on anybody,” Welsh said. “He had as aggressive a scoring mentality as I’ve ever seen. I have no problem with that.”
Providence improved to 2-1 against ranked teams this year, having beaten Boston College and lost to Florida. The Friars also opened their conference schedule at home for the first time since 2000, and won their league opener for the first time since 2003.
Last year, Providence lost its first four Big East games and finished with a conference record of 5-11.
“We got off to a rough start,” Welsh said. “You dig yourself a hole and you’ve got to get out of it.”