Get your popcorn ready. Every team is fighting for something, whether it’s a ranking in the AP Polls, a regular season conference title or proof that the future has something special in store. With storylines like this, ticket revenues are going to go through the roof, outselling several recent classics. If you were bored by this year’s dunk contest, hopefully you will be entertained by reading this past week’s batch of Big East games.
Writer’s Note: Please rank Creighton, they’ve exceeded expectations.
Player of the Week: Julian Champagnie – St. John’s
Freshman of the Week: Ryan Nembhard – Creighton
No. 10 Villanova vs. No. 8 Providence (Feb. 15): Top Ten Tilt
The first Top Ten conference battle since Xavier (No. 4) and Villanova (No. 3) clashed in 2018, this contest had two Big East foes squaring off in a matchup to determine Big East supremacy. Providence was undefeated at home, but Villanova’s a dominant road warrior.
Villanova dominated early, entering the halftime break up by six points. Justin Moore sparked the offense with three 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes before the rest of the Wildcats followed suit. Certain plays such as Jermaine Samuels throwing it down proved why this was the game of the night, but Villanova used a 12-6 run in the final three minutes to maintain their strong lead.
Nate Watson and AJ Reeves woke the Friars up in the second half, but Collin Gillespie hit buckets in Stephen Curry-like fashion, keeping Providence away from the lead. Villanova led by two entering the final minute, but Gillespie provided the dagger with 29 seconds left and forced Providence to foul. In a game that included fans throwing stuff on the court, Villanova proved that this was their league, winning 89-84.
Offense defined this contest as both teams made over 45% of their shots from the field, but Providence was done in by their 21% three-point shooting. Gillespie scored a career-high 33 points for the Wildcats while Moore tacked on 19 of his own. Watson’s 20 points and Reeves’ 16 led the way for Providence. Villanova may have won this round, but the rematch should be billed like John Cena vs. the Rock at WrestleMania 29 because the storylines are already developing.
Marquette vs. Creighton (Feb. 20): Cyan Ryans
Buckle your straps, and put on your cowboy hats. After a double overtime clash in their first meeting, the two programs got together for an Omaha rematch at two past high noon. Whoever won this duel would significantly improve their March Madness profile.
This was an offensive shootout. All three of Creighton’s Ryans, Ryan Hawkins, Ryan Kalkbrenner and Ryan Nembhard, had a balanced lion’s share at the line, in the paint and from downtown. It took over seven minutes for a Creighton player not named Ryan to score a basket. Marquette needed this win, and they went possession-by-possession with Creighton. After 20 minutes of trading punches and buckets, both teams entered the halftime break with 46 points.
The last two minutes decided this game, and it started when Hawkins made a go-ahead layup off a spectacular Nembhard pass. Each team missed two field goals, but the highlight of the game came in the final seconds. Down by one, Marquette needed to get to the paint for the game-winning shot. However, Rati Andronikashvili nabbed the ball from Darryl Morsell and forced him out of bounds. Several free throws later, Jones made a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded, but it did not matter as Creighton survived 83-82.
Both teams shot over 50% from the field, but this game belonged to the Ryans. Kalkbrenner had 21 with seven rebounds, Nembhard had 18 and Hawkins had 17 with nine boards. Morsell did everything for the Golden Eagles, finishing with 23 points while Jones had 18 off the bench. If we get a third round between these two teams, it better require three periods minimum.
No. 8 Providence vs. Butler (Feb. 20): Never count out Them Dudes
Back in December, Ed Cooley told his players to “be them dudes.” That mantra has lasted all season and provided a rallying cry for the veteran Friar squad. Entering the tough atmosphere of Hinkle Fieldhouse, would those dudes step up again?
Butler gave everyone hope in the first half, leading by 15 at the break and limiting the Friars to just 20 points. Behind Aaron Thompson and Chuck Harris, Butler turned the lead into a massive dogpile.
Butler extended their lead to 19 with 17 minutes left, but Providence left everyone on the edge of their seats. After clawing their way back, Noah Horchler banked home a jumper with 26 seconds left to tie a game that could have easily been a signature Butler blowout. Horchler also blocked a potential game-winning shot and Reeves’ potential game-winner came up short to end regulation.
The best of this back-and-forth overtime was saved for last. Harris scored a go-ahead layup, but with 39 seconds left, Jayden Taylor fouled Jared Bynum, who made both free throws for the lead. After Justin Minaya forced a steal and Butler fouled, Bynum missed both free throws, leaving Jayden Taylor with a chance to be the hero. Unfortunately, his potential winning shot bounced off the rim. Providence then miraculously kept the ball inbounds and escaped Hinkle Fieldhouse with a 71-70 victory.
Providence has proven all season long that they are “them dudes.” Watson made that clear with 22 points while Horchler added 15. Harris had 17 for Butler while Thompson had 16. Providence also turned into the New England Patriots with this win, a team that should never be discounted.
It’s wild to think that we’re already approaching the final week of February. At this point, every team has less than five conference games to play, and each one of them will impact the storylines heading into the postseason. Perhaps it could cause some sickos to awaken from their hibernation.