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Brendan McGair: Ed Cooley’s Bench Was Key For Friars

Al Durham and Jared Bynum have a penchant for making the correct play when it’s needed the most.

Photo Courtesy Providence College Athletics

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The Big East team that’s made a living in thriving in close games all season has added another chapter.

Under the bright NCAA Tournament lights here at KeyBank Center, the Providence Friars had Irish eyes smiling on them on St. Patrick’s Day after turning away South Dakota State, 66-57. PC led by 14 points with under 16 minutes remaining but needed to survive several pushes from the Jackrabbits, winners of 21 straight and, statistically speaking, the nation’s top three-point shooting team.

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South Dakota State pulled to within a three-point basket on two occasions down the stretch. Each time, Providence responded with a counterpunch courtesy of Al Durham and Jared Bynum – two guards with a penchant for making the correct play when it’s needed the most.

Durham went to the line for a 1-and-1 try with 2:23 remaining as PC looked to extend a 56-53 lead. Mission accomplished as Durham knocked down both free throws as part of a 13-point day.

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It was then Bynum’s turn to push the Friars to the finish line and into the Round of 32 for the first time since 2016. From hitting a pullup jumper to make it a five-point game with 60 seconds left, to knocking down all three free throws after getting fouled with 29.9 seconds left, Bynum came through on a day when the national perception was that Providence was ripe for an upset special.

“Lucky charm. We’re still here,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley.

The Friars advance to face Richmond for the right to advance to the Sweet 16. Seeded 12th, the Spiders supplied an upset courtesy of a 67-63 win over No. 5 Iowa.