Providence made its case for inclusion in the Top 25 with an impressive road victory over No. 20 UConn.
A.J. Reeves scored 16 points and the Friars (11-1) held off the Huskies 57-53 on Saturday in the Big East opener for both teams. Ed Croswell had 11 points and Nate Watson added 10 and seven rebounds for the Friars, who led by as many as 16 points in the second half but had to hang on at the end for their sixth straight win.
"It's definitely a confidence booster,'' said Watson, the team's fifth-year senior and team leader. "I think this win means a lot to us and it's definitely going to mean a lot down the stretch. We love road games and to get this win in front of 16,000 fans, that gives us energy."
R.J. Cole had 16 points and Tyrese Martin returned from a wrist injury to score 15 for UConn (9-3), which was playing its fourth straight game without leading scorer Adama Sanogo. The 6-foot-9 post player remains sidelined with an abdominal strain. Andre Jackson added eight points and 14 rebounds.
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Providence scored 11 of the final 12 points of the first half to take a 31-22 lead into the break. The Friars then extended the run to 17-1 ,getting three consecutive baskets by Watson, to open the second half. That pushed the lead to 37-22.
"It's no secret where we're throwing the ball,'' Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Everybody in the league knows he's going to get it, got to deal with it.''
A layup by Al Durham gave them their biggest lead at 48-32.
But UConn used a 9-0 run to get back into the game. A driving layup and free throw by Cole cut the deficit to 48-38 with just over 9 minutes to play and a 3-pointer from Andre Jackson made it 48-41.
Providence led 55-48 when a flagrant elbow from Durham with 2:11 left gave the Huskies a final spark.
Martin hit two free throws and a 3-pointer from Tyler Polley cut the deficit to 55-53 with 1:48 left, but the Huskies missed their final five shots.
"We fought hard and had a chance, a couple shots to tie it, a chance to take the lead there and just couldn't get that shot to really get to even or ahead there,'' UConn coach Dan Hurley said. "It's the first of 20 of these types of (conference) games.''
Providence: The Friars are now 10-6 against UConn in Hartford, and have won their last four meetings at the XL Center.
UConn: Martin started, seeing his first action since injuring his left wrist in the Bahamas in late November. He played with the wrist heavily wrapped for more than 33 minutes and also had five rebounds.
The Huskies' second loss in three games likely will drop them out of the AP Top 25, where they may be replaced by the Friars, who already have nonconference wins at Wisconsin and against Texas Tech and Northwestern.
"We thought we should have been ranked going into conference play," said guard Jaren Bynum. "We were playing for that respect and that was just another team that was in our way.''
Providence shot just 39.7% from the floor, but held the Huskies to 31.1% (19 of 61) from the floor and almost 29 points under their season average. The Friars also outscored UConn in the paint 34-22.
After UConn made their run that cut a 16 point lead to seven midway through the second half, Bynum hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to 10 points for Providence.
"I thought Jared's three may have been the shot of the game,'' Cooley said. "I thought his three was the shot. Because they were coming; they were coming; they were coming and his three, that's a settle-me-down basket that a veteran team is going to need in order to be competitive night-in and night-out in an environment like this.''
UConn had not played a Big East game in front of fans since the conference split in 2013, leaving the Huskies in the American. This was the first sellout for UConn at the XL Center since a 64-61 victory over Memphis on Feb. 16, 2020.
Providence: Host Georgetown on Wednesday
UConn: At Marquette on Tuesday night