February 02, 2016

It's been a month since Providence had a game decided by at least 10 points, but DePaul is infrequently one to cause such drama.

The 11th-ranked Friars head to Chicago on Tuesday night seeking a smooth tune-up for Saturday's clash with Big East-leading Villanova while also extending one of their best road stretches in school history.

Providence (18-4, 6-3) emerged from a three-game span against the Top 25 with two wins, including an 82-76 overtime victory at then-No. 4 Villanova on Jan. 24. The Friars gave that game right back two days later with a 75-68 home loss to then-No. 7 Xavier before Saturday's 73-69 win at unranked Georgetown.

Since an 83-65 home win over St. John's on Jan. 2, their 4-3 span has been about as tight as it gets with the Friars being outscored 482-480.

Three of the wins have come on the road, also including a victory over Creighton in addition to beating the Wildcats and Hoyas. Providence is 6-0 on the road - Saint Joseph's is the only other unbeaten team in the nation at 7-0 - and the Friars' seven-game run in true away games dating to last season is their longest since a school-record 10-game winning streak in 1960-61.

"I wouldn't say we like coming on the road," Kris Dunn said. "We're doing a good job on the road. ... We're just a tough team right now."

Coach Ed Cooley doesn't care where his team plays as long as he's got Dunn and Ben Bentil, the Big East's top two scorers. Both players had 26 points against Georgetown while Bentil grabbed nine rebounds. The conference's leading scorer (20.3 points per game) has averaged 27.3 points and 9.3 rebounds over the last three games.

"I'm going to get it to two guys at the end of the game," said Cooley, whose team improved to 6-1 in contests decided by four points or fewer. "We're going to ride and die with these two guys here as long as I got them, and I hope I have them a long time."

But the rash of close games might have as much to do with the team's offensive struggles as it does with two stars inching it over the top in crunch time. Providence has averaged 68.6 points and shot 36.8 percent over the last seven games while hitting 24.4 from 3-point range. Those numbers are down from 76.7 points on 45.6 percent shooting - 33.9 from long range - over its 14-1 start.

The Friars, however, likely have some wiggle room against the Blue Demons having won four straight in the series, with the last three coming by an average of 20.4 points. Last season's sweep came with Dunn averaging 24.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists, including possibly the best game of his career with the guard posting his first career triple-double of 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in an 83-72 home win Jan. 29, 2015.

The Blue Demons (7-14, 1-8) opened Big East play with six straight losses before a 57-56 win at Marquette on Jan. 20, but they've since regressed with back-to-back losses by a combined 35 points. That includes Saturday's 86-65 home defeat to then-No. 7 Xavier.

"It was very frustrating," Billy Garrett Jr. said. "It's just a matter of us fixing our problems. There's nothing new. We've been kind of doing that all year."

The guard at least broke out of an individual slump, scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting after a four-game stretch with 8.8 points per game shooting 28.9 percent and going 2 of 17 from 3-point range.

DePaul is 2-55 against the Top 25 dating to Jan. 8, 2008, though that includes an 82-61 home win over then-No. 20 George Washington on Dec. 22.

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