Providence opens tough week vs. No. 11 Creighton

NCAA Men's Basketball

No stranger to adversity during a three-game losing streak, Providence faces another string of challenges this week.

The Friars are set to visit No. 11 Creighton in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday before traveling to No. 3 Villanova on Saturday. Wherever they play, however, coach Ed Cooley is clear about his objective.

“When you’re trying to win, you’ve got to be more disciplined, and that’s what I’m challenging my team with right now,” Cooley said. “We’re not earning wins. We’re good enough to stay in games, but our discipline is what’s going to win.

“I’ve never coached a team that wasn’t tough emotionally, mentally and, more importantly, physically. This team has got to get to that point. If we don’t get to that point, we’re going to have a tough time surviving in the Big East.”

Providence (7-6, 3-4 Big East) fell into an early 16-point hole in its most recent game, a Jan. 12 loss at Marquette. The Friars chipped away to get to within nine at the break, but they couldn’t sustain a second-half charge before falling 79-69.

Saturday’s scheduled meeting with Georgetown was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Hoyas program, giving the Friars extra time to stir about what happened at Marquette.

“I didn’t like how it ended,” Cooley said. “The last six minutes of the game, I thought we were soft. I thought we were not connected.”

Nate Watson (18 points) and David Duke (17) led four scorers in double figures against Marquette, with Duke matching his career high with nine assists. Providence has been without point guard Jared Bynum as he deals with a groin strain.

As for Creighton (10-3, 6-2), Marcus Zegarowski has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. The Bluejays handled his absence for much of their Saturday afternoon game at Butler, but despite stringing together a 23-3 run in the second half, Creighton still fell short in a 70-66 overtime loss that ended a six-game winning streak.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish it,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said.

Shereef Mitchell spelled Zegarowski while dealing with a balky ankle. Denzel Mahoney paced Creighton with a season-best 29 points, but he and his teammates bemoaned a handful of mistakes and missed shots down the stretch.

“I thought we relaxed a little,” McDermott said. “Things became too easy for them on the offensive end. And we had a lot of empty possessions.”

Although Providence boasts a 16-12 advantage in the all-time series, Creighton has won four of the past five, including three straight meetings at home.

The teams last met Jan. 2 in Providence, with the Bluejays clipping the Friars 67-65 behind 20 points from Zegarowski, who drilled six 3-pointers. Damien Jefferson followed with 18 points.

Duke and Watson led Providence with 13 points each.

Creighton averages 81.9 points a game, tops in the conference, and also is the Big East leader in field goal percentage (49.4), 3-point percentage (38) and field goal percentage defense (39.6). The Friars are averaging 74.2 points per game and shooting 45.2 percent.

–Field Level Media

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