So much had been talked about Providence’s pair of All-Big East First Teamers Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, the Big East’s most dynamic one-two punch.
After scoring a combined 53 points in the quarterfinal win over Butler, Providence’s explosive tandem hit a road block on Friday night.
The Wildcats used a strong defensive effort to lead the way to a 76-68 win over the Friars, in which Dunn and Bentil were contained to a combined 12 points.
“We took some chances there to guard those two,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We took some chances to prevent those two from having monster games.”
Aside from Villanova’s defense, it also helped having a big game from junior forward Kris Jenkins.
Jenkins had another big game, scoring a game-high 21 points off of 9-of-14 shooting. He provided critical back-to-back threes that helped spur Villanova ahead of Providence in the second half. With the game so close, his threes were exactly what the Wildcats needed to help pull away.
With Dunn and Bentil limited to just nine and three points, respectively, the Friars could have easily been in peril. However, they found a way to hang in there, receiving solid games from Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright.
Bullock had a team-high 18 points, while Cartwright had 14.
Bentil, who had 38 points in last night’s win over Butler, only had three points before fouling out midway through the second half.
“He just didn’t have a good game today,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “Yesterday he looked like superman, today kryptonite got him.”
Although Providence was able to get it going after Bentil exited the game, using a 17-5 run to get back into the game, the Friars couldn’t get the necessary stops down the stretch.
Daniel Ochefu, who did not start due to an ankle injury, nailed three crucial baskets down the stretch to help put the game away. Providence had a few turnovers and missed shots, and watched its tournament hopes slowly fade away with each tick of the clock.
Dunn and the Friars’ struggles were captured with a deep three-point attempt by Dunn that ended in an airball.
“I thought we played hard and had opportunities,” Cooley said. “I think the diffference between the two teams was the veteran composure. We made some mistakes down the stretch that they capitalized on.”
Villanova also received a solid performance from senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. He even dove into the stands for the second game in a row.
“He does it in practice everyday,” Wright said. “He even did it in high school, before he came to Villanova.”
The Wildcats return to the Big East Tournament finals for the second straight year. Regardless of who they play, expect them to be fired up and prepared. They will take on the winner of Seton Hall-Providence tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s something we look at and we love,” Jenkins said. “We take it one game at a time, we’re looking forward to it.”