Providence hits game-winning free-throw to defeat DePaul 66-65


Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul junior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands walks off the court after the first half. The Blue Demons lost 66-65.

With DePaul getting off to its best start this year at 12-1 before starting conference play since the 1986-87 season, the hope was that the Blue Demons also found a way to improve their late-game collapses. After two Big East games, that is an area DePaul is still looking to get better at after losing their first two conference games due to late-game struggles.

Against Seton Hall, the Blue Demons allowed the Pirates to go on a 9-0 run at the end of the game to win 74-66. Five days later against Providence at Wintrust Arena, junior forward Paul Reed fouled Providence’s Nate Watson with one second left in the game and the score tied at 65. Watson, who came into the game a 37 percent free-throw shooter, missed the first shot, but drilled in the second one — giving his team a 66-65 victory over DePaul.

“It was the most pressure I ever had,” Watson said. “I was honestly shaking the whole time.” 

Prior to Watson hitting the game-winning the free-throw, senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands had to knock down three straight free-throws to tie the game at 65. The senior was fouled while going up for a 3-point shot with 16 seconds left in the game, and he stepped up to the line and knocked down all of them. 

“Just one free-throw at a time,” Coleman-Lands said. “Something I practice every day. So, my guys trust me and just going in and knocking them down.”

After Watson hit the second free-throw to give the Friars a 66-65 lead, the Blue Demons were not able to get a shot off with one second left because Providence deflected the inbound as time ran out. The Blue Demons dropped their second straight game and are now 12-3 on the season and 0-2 in Big East play. It’s the fourth straight season that the Blue Demons have started conference play losing their first two games. 

“Losing is not good, losing in this league is not good, losing at home the first few games is certainly not,” head coach Dave Leitao said. “We’ve got to be able to understand all of that, not some of them, but all of the reasons to be a little bit more dedicated to making sure those things don’t happen again.”

DePaul dug themselves a big hole with six minutes to play when Providence went on a 10-0 run to give them a 60-50 lead. But the Blue Demons were able to respond on the backs of Reed and junior guard Devin Gage, who scored six straight points for DePaul to get them within four. 

The Friars, however, were scored the next three points to put DePaul in a seven-point hole, 63-56, with 2:43 left in the game. With Providence up 65-59 with just over a minute to play, the Blue Demons rallied off six straight points to tie the game at 65. But a late foul call on Reed sent Watson to the free-throw line, where he hit the second one. 

“We just got to go back to the drawing board,” said Moore, who finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. “Wasn’t our best game, came down to some key plays, defensive rebound and something we just couldn’t control. 

DePaul played the final few minutes of the first half and the entire second half without their starting junior forward Jaylen Butz, who suffered a leg sprain in the first half, according to Leitao. The Blue Demons missed their big man in the second half as they had one less body inside to help protect the paint.

Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia
DePaul’s Paul Reed and Providence’s Alpha Diallo fight for the ball in the first half.

“Well, there are two ways you look at it, [Butz] is a very important piece to what we do,” Leitao said. “From a lot of different areas defensively, offensively, stability and rotationally. But at the same point of time, next man up. I thought Nick [Ongenda] did an admirable job coming in for [Butz]. So, if you believe in next man up, and everybody believes in opportunities, it was an opportunity not just for Nick, but for everybody else to step their game up and make more of an impact.”

Ongenda played 16 minutes in the game, scoring no points, grabbing two rebounds and blocking three shots. With Butz injured for most of the game, Reed provided DePaul would most of its scoring inside against Providence. The junior scored 24 points, with 14 coming in the second half, and grabbed 15 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season.

DePaul got off to a strong start in the first half, with freshman Romeo Weems scoring the first five points for the Blue Demons. After nearly six minutes of action in the game, the Blue Demons built a 11-5 lead. But the next 12 minutes of the half was a different story, as the Friars outscored the Blue Demons 22-7 in that span — taking a 27-18 lead.

DePaul, however, responded well after the Friars took a nine-point lead, with the Blue Demons closing out the first half on a 15-4 run to take a 33-31 lead going into the break. The Blue Demons took their last lead of the game, 35-34, with 19 minutes to play in the second half. Even though DePaul tied the game multiple times in the second half, the Friars would never allow  DePaul to take another lead. 

The Blue Demons will get a week off before their next Big East game on Jan. 11 at St. John’s. DePaul will then travel to face No. 10 Villanova before returning to Chicago for three straight home games