BUFFALO — There was nothing remotely lucky or tense about these 40 minutes of basketball for Providence College.
The Friars punched their first Sweet 16 ticket in 25 years with a master class against Richmond. Providence dished out a thumping on Saturday night at KeyBank Center, leading from start to finish.
This special season now includes a long-awaited March Madness breakthrough, as the Friars are off to the second weekend in the Midwest Region courtesy of a 79-51 smashing.
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Never in its previous 37 games at this event had Providence enjoyed such a blowout. The Friars dispatched West Virginia by a 91-67 count in their 1965 opener to spark an Elite Eight run. They now sit a lone victory from reaching that round for the fifth time.
“That was as well as we’ve played all year, and we picked the right time to do it,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “I think we clicked at every level.”
Providence never trailed in this one. The fifth-seeded Friars ripped off a 7-0 start and held a 16-point lead after just 10:43 of game time. Justin Minaya’s 3-pointer from the right wing gave Providence a 30-14 cushion, and the large traveling contingent behind the bench was on fire.
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“We have a lot of threats on this team on the offensive end and the defensive end,” Providence guard AJ Reeves said. “When we play like this, I think we’re the best team in the country.”
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The winners snapped out of what was a three-game shooting slump from deep. Their eight 3-pointers in the first half matched the 8-for-22 effort in Thursday’s 66-57 grind past South Dakota State. The Friars were a season-worst 3-for-24 while being eliminated from the Big East Tournament by Creighton, but this jolt of perimeter offense came at the ideal time.
“When Coach calls your number, be ready to shoot the ball,” Providence forward Noah Horchler said. “Shots were falling tonight and it felt great.”
The knockout punch came right out of the locker room to open the second half. Providence (27-5) connected on its first four shots and continued to expand what was a 39-24 edge at the break. Horchler’s 3-pointer in front of his own bench pushed the lead to 21 points and Jared Bynum capped it at 30 on a 3-pointer with 7:38 to play.
“They’ve come back the last five or six games,” Providence guard Al Durham said. “We wanted to come out with a 0-0 mentality.”
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Cooley becomes the fifth coach to take Providence within four wins of a national title. Joe Mullaney (1965), Dave Gavitt (1973, 1974), Rick Pitino (1987) and Pete Gillen (1997) finally have some company. The Friars are 4-1 in their previous five trips to the Sweet 16. There could be more highlights to come.
“I’m emotionally just trying to get the enormity of it,” Cooley said. “I grew up a Providence College fan. I grew up in that city hoping and praying one day just to get a chance.
“(Athletic director) Bob Driscoll believed in me. (Former school president Brian) Shanley and now (current school president Kenneth) Sicard believed in me. And that’s something that goes much deeper than you guys in this room can possibly imagine.”
Richmond (24-13) rallied to victory six times this season when trailing by 14 or more points, including twice on the way to an Atlantic 10 Tournament title. This never felt like one of those occasions, as the 12th-seeded Spiders were hounded into 35.7% shooting in the first half and controlled on the glass by a 20-13 count. Jacob Gilyard and Tyler Burton were a combined 1-for-11 from the field in the opening 20 minutes after starring in a 67-63 upset of No. 5 seed Iowa on Thursday.
No. 1 seed Kansas awaits on Friday in Chicago at a time to be determined. The Jayhawks outlasted Creighton, 79-72, in a Saturday afternoon matchup in advance. It’s their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2018 and 31st overall.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence,” Cooley said. “Obviously we’re going to play against a blueblood who had a really, really hard game today against a Big East opponent.”
Remy Martin netted a team-high 20 points off the bench while Jalen Wilson collected a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kansas improved to 30-6 overall and has won six straight, including the Big 12 Tournament title last week. The Jayhawks clinched the crown with a 74-65 win over Texas Tech, a team that lost at Providence on Dec. 1.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25
RICHMOND (51): Burton 1-8 2-6 5, Cayo 9-11 0-4 18, Golden 4-8 2-3 10, Gilyard 2-10 0-0 4, Gustavson 2-3 1-2 5, Grace 1-6 2-2 4, Sherod 2-6 1-2 5, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Crabtree 0-0 0-0 0, Bailey 0-0 0-0 0, Koureissi 0-0 0-2 0, Noyes 0-0 0-0 0, Randolph 0-1 0-0 0; totals 21-53 8-21 51.
PROVIDENCE (79): Horchler 6-10 0-0 16, Minaya 3-4 1-2 9, Watson 5-9 0-0 10, Durham 5-7 0-0 13, Reeves 3-10 4-4 12, Bynum 2-7 5-6 10, Croswell 3-5 0-0 6, Breed 1-2 1-2 3, Case 0-0 0-0 0, A. Fonts 0-0 0-0 0, Goodine 0-0 0-0 0; totals 28-54 11-14 79.
Halftime—Providence 39-24. 3-Point Goals — Richmond 1-21 (Burton 1-5, Golden 0-1, Gustavson 0-1, Sherod 0-3, Grace 0-4, Gilyard 0-7), Providence 12-22 (Horchler 4-6 , Durham 3-4, Minaya 2-3, Reeves 2-6, Bynum 1-2, Breed 0-1). Rebounds — Richmond 24 (Burton 6), Providence 34 (Horchler 12). Assists — Richmond 9 (Golden 5), Providence 18 (Bynum 6). Total Fouls — Richmond 13, Providence 15. Records — Richmond 24-13, Providence 27-5.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism