Saturday’s most entertaining game came from the smallest state, featured acute rivalry and ended with a buzzer-beating bucket. The 12th and final tie was broken with its eighth lead change, as Providence forward Ben Bentil put back a missed layup attempt by star Kris Dunn in the Friars’ 74-72 win over Rhode Island at Kingston, R.I.
Bentil barely got his paws off the ball before the clock went all zeroes. Replay shows he probably got away with a push-off, too. But it counted.
The play came after URI’s Jared Terrell’s second-chance mid-range jumper tied the score with 6.2 seconds left. PC had no timeouts, and with that, Dunn skated up the floor. Bentil trailed. It was the second shot that got URI.
“We were really lucky to win,” PC coach Ed Cooley said on television afterward. “We were fortunate to have the ball last. I felt whoever had the ball last was going to win. We always say play to the final buzzer. We literally did today. We’re fortunate to win.”
The Friars have won six straight against their in-state rival, and what happened Saturday night at the Ryan Center has to be among the best games in series history. Bentil, who’s among the most improved players in the country, had 23 points and eight rebounds. Terrell led URI with 19 points.
Meanwhile, Dunn was his usual must-watch self. It wasn’t all amazing — credidt to URI for forcing Dunn into old habits and inducing him toward six turnovers — but he did score 15 points, have five assists, five rebounds and three steals.
He was also showing off like this.
The win means Providence (8-1) is in position to play out its season to forecast and have plenty of room to spare to reach the NCAA Tournament. This was far from a given when we entered the year, because no one knew how good Dunn’s supporting case would be. Bentil’s been a beast, and Rodney Bullock is shooting 55 percent on his 2-pointers.
PC has wins over Harvard, Illinois and Arizona in addition to Saturday’s victory. The only loss came last weekend vs. undefeated Michigan State, which figures to move to No. 1 in the AP poll and already is No. 1 in the Top 25 (and one). It’s been a really good start for the Friars.
For Hurley and Rhode Island, it’s becoming another season with a snake-bit feel. The Rams (5-3) lost their MVP, E.C. Matthews, only minutes into their season. And remove for a moment how painful losing this kind of a game, to your rival, at the last second, after you had battled back. Forget all that.
It’s also a home loss against a team that’s now clearly owning among the 15 or 20 best résumés in college basketball. URI’s best win is against mediocre TCU. The Rams can still build themselves a nice dossier, but they’re going to have to win four of their next five to do it. Those games are: home to undefeated Houston; at to-be-determined Nebraska; home to MAAC favorite Iona; at C-USA player Old Dominion; and at in-state Ivy rep Brown.
The Rams have the talent to go on a run, but they’ll need to create breaks, the way PC did on Saturday, to achieve it.