After working out the kinks with a new-look team during nonconference play, No. 19 Providence has risen to the challenges of the Big East thus far.
The Friars (14-3, 6-0 Big East) are in sole possession of the conference lead, having started Big East play with six victories in six games for the first time ever.
A Saturday trip to face Creighton (9-8, 3-3) is Providence’s next challenge. The Friars look to extend their longest win streak since 1988-89 to 10 consecutive games.
Ed Cooley’s team had a midweek bye after edging past St. John’s 83-80 last Saturday for its second straight home win.
“Not having Jared (Bynum), we seemed a little bit out of sorts offensively,” Cooley said. “I’m really proud of our group for how we were able to just find a way to win. I think our players and our program grew up with respect to how to deal with adversity.”
Bynum remains day-to-day with an abdominal injury, but all five starters scored in double-figures in his absence.
Noah Locke had a season-high 20 points with five 3-pointers against the Red Storm. Alyn Breed (14 points) started in Bynum’s place.
“We’re going to need (Bynum),” Cooley said. “This bye has come at the right time. … We put (Breed) in a tough spot because he’s been more of a combo guard than a point guard this year, but he’s somebody who has embraced the moment and prepared.”
The Friars, who have won all three of their Big East road games, are undefeated since a 75-62 defeat at TCU on Nov. 30.
Following last season’s Big East regular-season title, the Friars’ titlechase in the conference tournament fell short with an 85-58 semifinal loss to Creighton. But they advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament where they lost to eventual champion Kansas.
Creighton is 2-4 against top-25 teams this season after Wednesday’s 90-87 loss at No. 12 Xavier. Only Alabama has played more nationally-ranked opponents with seven.
“We’ve played a killer schedule here,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We’ve had opportunities in the last five or six minutes to have a chance to win the game. We just haven’t been able to finish.”
South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman scored a season-high 25 points against Xavier, but Creighton’s 26-game win streak when five or more players score in double-figures was snapped.
Xavier held a seven-point lead with 5:17 left before Creighton clawed back in the final minute.
While Providence has had the week off, Creighton will have little time to dwell on its second straight loss and first at home this season.
“It’s been a tough stretch,” said McDermott, whose team briefly led in the second half last Saturday at then-No. 4 UConn, before falling 69-60.
“We’ve got Providence, who’s won nine in a row, coming to our place Saturday, so we don’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for ourselves,” McDermott added.
Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma had consecutive double-doubles prior to Wednesday’s game. His 16 rebounds at UConn were the most by a Bluejays player in since 2012.
–Field Level Media