PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP)—Winning twice in five days over ranked teams is very impressive for an unranked school, especially after going 12 years without consecutive victories over Top 25 clubs.
“We proved that we can compete against the best in the country when we play our hardest,” Friars coach Keno Davis said.
Marshon Brooks led Providence with 20 points after scoring a team-high 27 against Louisville.
“It’s definitely a big deal,” Brooks said. “We knew it was going to be tough playing two nationally ranked teams.”
The Friars (13-8, 2-6 Big East) had gone 51 weeks and 17 games without a conference victory before beating Louisville but now have won two straight. On Wednesday, they never trailed, led 34-25 at halftime and stayed in front by at least seven the rest of the way.
The cold-shooting Wildcats (17-3, 5-2) couldn’t mount a serious comeback, never scoring more than four straight points until 2:22 remained and the game was out of reach.
“Almost every shot we took was contested,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We got behind and couldn’t create any good shots for ourselves.”
Villanova was led by Maalik Wayns with 18 points and Antonio Pena with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
The Wildcats were coming off an 83-72 upset at No. 3 Syracuse on Saturday night and had beaten the Friars in their last eight meetings since a loss on Feb. 11, 2004. But Villanova’s top two scorers, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, only had seven points each and the team shot a season-low 32.5 percent from the field. Its three losses have come in its worst shooting games.
The Friars weren’t much better, hitting only 37.3 percent of their shots but outscoring the Wildcats 31 to 14 on free throws. Brooks sank just 4 of 15 field goal attempts and missed all eight 3-pointers but hit 12 of 14 free throws.
“He still was getting to the line and was able to fight through that,” Davis said.
The rest of the Friars made 8 of 18 shots from 3-point range, while the Wildcats missed their first seven and finished at 4 of 22.
“We got shots but we took the first shot every time,” Wright said. “It wasn’t selfishness. It was the way they played us.”
Against Syracuse on Saturday, Villanova hit 50 percent of its shots while Wayns and Fisher made 6 of 7 from behind the arc in the first half. On Wednesday, Wayns was 2 for 4 on 3-pointers, but Fisher missed all four of his attempts and Stokes went 1 for 9.
The Wildcats just couldn’t overcome the Friars tight man-to-man defense.
“It was a smart way to play us,” Wright said.
Davis figured he didn’t have much choice.
“Man-to-man is what you want to be the cornerstone of your defense,” he said. “They can light it up. It wouldn’t have been a good game for us to go to any true zone.”
Providence committed just seven turnovers in the game and stretched its nine-point halftime lead to as much as 18 on a 3-pointer by Bryce Cotton that made the score 74-56 with 2:50 left.
Providence charged into a 6-0 lead on 3-pointers by Gerard Coleman and Vincent Council, who each scored 16 points. It was 8-4 before Villanova tied it 8-all when Pena converted offensive rebounds.
But when Duke Mondy sank a 3-pointer just 5:52 into the game, Providence had the lead for good, 11-8. An eight-point run capped by Council’s basket made it 24-14 with 6:16 left in the half.
Providence opened the second half with five straight points for a 39-25 lead. Villanova cut that to seven on Pena’s jumper with 10:07 to play that made it 50-43. But two free throws by Cotton and a layup by Kadeem Batts built the lead up to 54-43. Stokes, who had missed his first 11 shots, finally connected when he made a 3-pointer with 8:54 remaining that made it 54-46. But that was much too little, much too late as the Wildcats continued to miss shots and failed to make key stops.
Until Saturday, the Friars had not won a Big East game since beating then-No. 19 Connecticut on Jan. 27 last year, also their last victory over a team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25.
Brooks, who turned 22 on Wednesday, was asked where this birthday ranks with his others.
“No. 1,” he said. “No. 1.”
There are some more low numbers coming up for the Friars. After their next two games, they face No. 21 Georgetown and No.5 Connecticut.
“Coming off our game against Louisville, if it’s ever possible to have some momentum on a one-game win, we did,” Davis said. “We felt a little less pressure as a team. We were able to knock off Louisville.”
And now Villanova.