Providence had its chances late to notch a huge Big East win on Saturday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. But it was visiting Villanova that escaped with yet another close win as the Wildcats squeaked out a 64-60 victory thanks to some clutch defense.
Villanova improved to 16-3 (6-1 Big East) with its sixth win in a row and 12th in its last 13 games. Providence fell to 11-10 (4-4) and has lost four of its last five after starting 3-0 in conference play. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl iced the game for Villanova when he hit the second of two free throws with 12 seconds left to put the Wildcats up by four.
The Friars missed all 10 of their 3-point attempts in the second half and still managed to battle back from a 10-point deficit to be within a possession late in the game. But Providence made just 1 of 6 of its shots in the final three minutes, and David Duke turned the ball over with 33 seconds left when the Friars had a chance to tie the game. Collin Gillespie led Villanova with 18 points, while Nate Watson led Providence with 18 points.
Villanova is a quiet force: In a season of fluctuation and inconsistency among college basketball’s traditional powers, the Wildcats continue to be a steady force. Villanova began the season ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 and are now No. 9. They have never fallen out of the rankings and are likely to climb to their highest mark this season after a 2-0 week that included a win over Butler. Seton Hall still sits atop the conference standings, but Villanova is a capable challenger and will get two cracks at the Pirates in the weeks ahead.
Providence is missing the clutch gene: The Friars are 5-7 in games decided by 10 points or less. Its last three losses have all been against ranked teams, and they’ve all been single-digit losses. A lack of late-game execution haunted Providence late on Saturday just as it did a week ago when the Friars let Creighton come back from a five-point deficit in the final two minutes of a 78-74 loss. All is not lost for Ed Cooley’s team — they made the NCAA Tournament with double-digit losses five seasons in a row between 2014 and 2018 — but Providence needs to get better in clutch situations if it wants any hope of sneaking in to the 68-team field this season.
Villanova has (young) stars: The Wildcats’ 2018 national championship team boasted a deep cast of players now in the NBA. Even last year’s squad featured a pair of first-team all-conference performers in seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. What about this iteration of the Wildcats? Well, they may not have the name recognition of past stars like Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. But there are stars on this Villanova team. Sophomore forward Saddiq Bey continued a strong run through conference play with 13 points and nine rebounds against Providence, while Robinson-Earl, a freshman forward, contributed 17 points. Both have the makings of future NBA players and are improving as the season progresses. Gillespie, meanwhile, is filling the role of veteran leader with great aplomb as the junior quarterbacks a team that has no senior contributors through Big East play.