CHICAGO (AP) — Forward Justin Minaya realizes the target will grow as the wins pile up and No. 21 Providence climbs in the rankings. The Friars are staying locked in for now.
On Saturday, Providence eliminated any suspense early, getting 17 points from Aljami Durham and burying DePaul with a dominant first half to win 70-53.
The Friars (13-1, 3-0 Big East), off to their best start since the 2015-16 team won 14 of its first 15, grabbed a 25-point halftime lead on the way to their eighth straight win.
“We’re trying not to think about it too much,” Minaya said. “We kind of brought this ‘1-0 today’ mentality every day. We try to just win each day … and not worry too much about everything else that’s going on around us.”
Minaya and Jared Bynum each scored 12 points. Minaya grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds and blocked two shots. Bynum had seven assists and two steals.
The Friars made 8 of 15 3-pointers, and coach Ed Cooley earned his 299th win over 16 seasons at Fairfield and Providence.
“I think it’s a credit to the maturity,” Cooley said. “We have an older group out there. They’ve been great in our preparation. They’ve been really, really good asking questions in the scouting reports. I give our staff a lot of credit. The coaches are doing a great job presenting it to the team and then presenting it to the staff.”
He said DePaul is talented and called this “one of our better road wins” in a “long, long time.”
Javon Freeman-Liberty led DePaul (9-3, 0-2) with 22 points. The Blue Demons shot 29.8% while setting a season low in scoring for the second straight game.
“They flat-out beat us,” coach Tony Stubblefield said. “I take 100 percent blame on that, of not having these guys ready to play, to play at this level, of what it takes to win in the Big East. I told them in the locker room that’s on me as a coach, to have these guys ready for the physicality.”
Providence made it look easy after beating short-handed, 15th-ranked Seton Hall on Wednesday night.
The Friars endured an off day from leading scorer Nate Watson, who finished with a season-low three points. A.J. Reeves had his left pinky and ring finger taped together in the early going and played just nine minutes.
Even so, any doubts about the outcome vanished soon after the opening tip. It was 42-17 after the lowest-scoring half this season for both a Friars opponent and DePaul.
Providence went on a 15-2 run in the opening minutes, capped by Reeves’ 3 that made it 18-7. And with the score 20-14, things really got out of hand.
The Friars scored 22 straight, with Minaya nailing a corner 3 in the closing seconds to make it 42-14. David Jones banked in a 3 for DePaul at the buzzer, ending a scoreless stretch of 9:27.
Cooley was awaiting the report on Reeves from team doctors. “I just pray it’s not something that’s gonna be long lasting because he’s a big, big, big weapon for us,” Cooley said.
Providence: The Friars have experience and balance, with four players averaging double figures in points. Providence’s bench outscored DePaul’s 22-11, and the Friars committed just nine turnovers.
DePaul: The Blue Demons are counting on Stubblefield to turn around the program. There is obviously work to do. They struggled to score again coming off a 63-59 loss at Butler on Wednesday.
“We have to get better,” Stubblefield said. “And we’ve got to do it sooner than later.”
Providence figures to move up after beating No. 15 Seton Hall and taking out the Blue Demons. The Friars earned their first ranking since February 2016 when they entered the poll at No. 22 on on Dec. 20.
Providence: At Marquette on Tuesday.
DePaul: At St. John’s on Wednesday.
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