Providence, Ben Bentil end Villanova’s 22-game Big East winning streak

There are certain victories every year in college basketball’s regular season that stand out in a special way by the time we get to bracket makin’. These are the biggies, the ones that help teams achieve No. 1 seeds or push them off the bubble and into the field of 68, or further define their case to be a No. 2, 3 or 4. So, in relation to that, let’s definitively note: What Providence did on Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia will probably be logged as one of the most meaningful road victories in the sport in 2015-16.

Ed Cooley’s team won 82-76 in overtime at fourth-ranked Villanova. It rallied to a win, even after being on the verge of taking the game in regulation — before Nova senior Ryan Arcidiacono sank a tying 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining. Kris Dunn’s final shot in regulation fell wrong, so we got bonus basketball.

In situations like that, the road team usually loses, especially when the road team isn’t favored and has an inferior conference record.

But not on Sunday. Providence is taking big steps toward consistent national respect. Providence’s Ben Bentil was the star (31 points, 13 rebounds) in what’s clearly one of the best wins in recent program history, all things considered.

And let us consider the ways right now:

  • This was PC’s first win over a top-five team since 2009.
  • The outcome ended Villanova’s outrageous winning streak against Big East opponents, which closes out at 22.
  • Villanova’s home win streak is done at 32 games, its first home loss since 2014.
  • Providence is still undefeated on the road this season.
  • The Friars are now 4-1 against ranked teams.

What a job this season by this team. Bentil’s contributions are nothing new, of course. Our own Sam Vecenie had a feature on him earlier this month. He’s without question the most improved player in the sport. His 13 rebounds on Sunday tied a career high. The profile of the Big East only enhances when its best teams play close games and in doing so keep them in the national polls.

Kris Dunn had this beautifully bizarre game in which he fouled out but not before achieving 14 assists, 12 points, five rebounds and four steals. And he had a couple of absolutely tremendous passes and shots in the closing minutes to keep PC’s chances going.

Villanova’s still in control of the conference, by the way. Jay Wright’s team sits at 7-1, a game ahead of four teams at 5-2: Providence, Xavier, Georgetown and, wait, Creighton?! Yeah. The Bluejays are sneakily becoming a factor.

The Friars have this weird thing going where they’re better on the road than at home. They just won over No. 18 Butler at home on Tuesday. And it doesn’t slow. Xavier heads to Providence on Tuesday, then the Friars have to play at quietly dangerous Georgetown on Saturday.

The win here signals something certain: Providence is no fluke. It’s going to be a player and a threatening team for the rest of the season. It’s going to be in the NCAA Tournament. Sunday’s win might be the ace in the sleeve for a No. 4 seed, or a No. 3, or maybe a No. 5. Cooley’s club is 66 percent of the way through its regular season, and we know this team has already exceeded misguided expectations from outsiders.

Ben Bentil, left, tied a career high with 13 rebounds. He was stellar on Sunday. (USATSI)


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