Haanif Cheatham went for 16 points and Duane Wilson, who finished with 11, scored a tough, driving layup with 30 seconds left for what would prove to be the game-winning basket as Marquette went into the Dunkin Donuts Center and upset No. 8 Providence, 65-64.
Henry Ellenson added 13 points, 10 boards, four blocks and three steals for the Golden Eagles, who were in desperate need of this win. They were coming off of a pair of truly disappointing performances to open Big East play, losing to Seton Hall at home by 20 and falling at Georgetown by ten points on Saturday.
So credit to Steve Wojciechowski and his team.
This is the kind of win that is going to be relevant when Selection Sunday comes around.
But the story of this game isn’t Marquette.
Because the Friars did not play anything like the Providence team that we have become accustomed to seeing over the course of the season. They came out flat — turnovers and 0-for-4 shooting on their first eight possessions — and they shot the ball poorly — Rodney Bullock, Ben Bentil, Ryan Fazekas and Drew Edwards were a combined 0-for-10 from three — but this performance had the feel of a team that had bought into their hype.
This is unequivocally the best team that Ed Cooley has ever had at Providence. They’ve climbed into the top ten of just about every ranking you’ll find this side of KenPom (who has them 33rd; Ken wins again) and, after their come-from-behind win at Butler on Thursday, there has been talk about the Friars being the best team in the Big East. I went as far as to say that I think this is a group that can play their way into the Final Four — they have the same roster makeup as the two UConn teams that won national titles in the last five years — and I still believe that to be the case.
But for teams that are not used to being the hunted, to being the elite win that every potential bubble team is looking to add to their résumé, it can be tough to come out focused every night, particularly when you’re hosting a team that had lost their first two league games by an average of 15 points.
Providence came out sluggish, put a run on Marquette that seemed to seal the win — it was 58-50 late in the second half — but closed the game with the same ugly offensive possessions and sloppy turnovers that they started it with.
Put it this way: Marquette shot 2-for-11 from three, turned the ball over 19 times and grabbed just two offensive rebounds and they’ll leave Providence with a win in a game they trailed by eight with six minutes left.
I don’t think Friar fans should be worried just yet, but it will be interesting to see what happens when they play Creighton on the road next week. My guess? The Bluejays are going to rue the timing of that game.