By: Matthew Zannini
C/O to Big East Mens Basketball Twitter Page
Providence fell to the newest member of the Big East Conference, UCONN, with a final score of 73-61 Tuesday night. Head coach Ed Cooley returned to the sidelines after reportedly missing the last game against Depaul with a case of food poisoning. Cooley and the team faced a familiar foe, UCONN head coach Dan Hurley, who was the former head coach of rival URI for six years.
After winning the first bout between the two, 70-59 only six days earlier, PC looked to finish the season series at 2-0. However, the Huskies had other plans in mind and their hard, gritty play put Providence in their place and put a halt on their two game win streak.
Sophomore guard James Bouknight returned for the Huskies, out of the starting lineup but still serving an important role off the bench. Bouknight provided the Huskies with a huge offensive spark in the first half scoring 12. Former URI Ram Tyrese Martin also got off to a very hot start ending the first half with 16 points on 7/11 shooting.
After coming off Big East player of the week honors, junior guard David Duke ended the first half with a disappointing statline of 6 points, going 1/7 from the field. While UCONN had the flashy points in the first half, multiple big three pointers by guard AJ Reeves and forward Noah Horchler kept the Friars competitive in the first half. Providence's defense however had few answers for Bouknight, Martin, and the rest of the Huskies offense. Providence had struggles rebounding, giving up 24 total rebounds and specifically 11 on the offensive side. This gave UCONN multiple second chance opportunities which they cashed in on.
UCONN led the Friars 37-31 at half but it was easy to see both teams wanted to get this win badly, seemingly in order to keep their postseason hopes alive. It was obvious that this Huskies team was different with sophomore Bouknight in the lineup and the Friars were not able to handle it. Both teams treated this game like a do-or-die and UCONN had more intensity all throughout the first half, and it was easy to see they wanted it more.
The Huskies came out with that same intensity to start the second half and built on their lead early. Multiple turnovers by Providence early in the second half allowed Connecticut to extend their score. Bouknight took over the team in scoring and was the team's go to man when in need of points. Providence looked stagnant on both sides of the ball and struggled to get clean, open looks on the offensive side while giving up easy points on the defensive side.
After a stellar game from James Bouknight, he exited the game with a hamstring injury and missed the final 7 minutes of the game after playing in his first game back since January 5th when he suffered an elbow injury. Tyrese Martin continued to put points on the board and both him and Bouknight had a game high in scoring, both with 18. On the other side Providence’s star players and leading scorers David Duke and center Nate Watson were held to a combined 17 points. Duke was limited to 11 and Watson only scored 6, which makes it easy to point to both and put them at fault for the loss. However poor defense and rebounding trouble was the ultimate issue for the Friars. The only bright spot for Providence was another solid game from freshman guard Alyn Breed, who dropped a team high 14 points.
Two different stories were written by the end of the game. UCONN goes to 10-5 and are looking to get a big win in their next game against Villianova while PC had their win streak snapped, falling to 11-11 and are on the outside looking in in regards to the big dance. Sitting at .500, Providence fans should be eying the bubble or a Big East Conference tournament win in order to get a spot in the postseason. However this late in the season and the team showing no signs of building their momentum from game to game, it seems that their season is coming to a disappointing close and the NIT may be in their future.
UCONN finished the game with more than twice as many field goals as the Friars did. By playing together, the Huskies intensity was too strong for Providence to overcome on the road in Storrs as Connecticut picked up their 200th win in Gampel Pavilion.
PC has an 8 day layover and plays next on Feb. 24 at home against Xavier. Look for the Friars to regroup and come out with some fire next week.