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More heartbreak for Demons

Donnavan Kirk blocks shot by Providence’s LaDontae Henton. Kirk had eight blocks. | John J. Kim-Sun-Times

Donnavan Kirk blocks a shot by Providence’s LaDontae Henton. Kirk had eight blocks. | John J. Kim-Sun-Times

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Updated: March 27, 2012 8:16AM

Providence coach Ed Cooley took a page Friday night from one of his coaching heroes, football’s Tony Dungy, who preaches ‘‘do the unexpected to prepare your team.’’

Cooley decided on a night of bowling for his struggling team on the eve of facing DePaul.

‘‘I needed to see my team smile and feel good about themselves,’’ Cooley said.

The Friars were all smiles Saturday, handing DePaul yet another heartbreaking defeat at Allstate Arena on LaDontae Henton’s winning shot with 1.7 seconds left.

The 73-71 victory ended a 22-game conference road skid for the Friars (14-15, 3-13 Big East). The Demons (11-17, 2-14) fell for the eighth consecutive time.

‘‘We’re like DePaul, trying to change the culture,’’ said Cooley, who’s in his first year at Providence. ‘‘We’ve been in so many close games.’’

Henton, the game’s leading scorer with 24 points and top rebounder with 15, caught DePaul sophomores Brandon Young (11 points, six assists) and Cleveland Melvin (10 points, 12 rebounds) in a defensive switch to hit the winning jumper.

Providence junior Vincent Council added 14 points and 11 assists.

‘‘It’s a tough one to take,’’ DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. ‘‘Our guys did a really good job of battling back [to a 71-71 tie with 33.5 seconds left on Jamee Crockett’s two free throws]. We have one defensive stop to make to go into overtime, and it didn’t happen.’’

The outcome means the Blue Demons likely will remain the No. 16 seed for the Big East tournament, which begins March 6 in New York.

Two regular-season games remain, at West Virginia on Tuesday and home Saturday against Seton Hall.

‘‘We’re trying to get a win under our belts,’’ Young said. ‘‘It’s the same every game, where we might take a defensive stop off. You can’t do that in the Big East.’’

The Demons had positives, including a breakout game for sophomore forward Donnavan Kirk.

His eight blocks were the most by a Demon since Steven Hunter had eight against Houston on Feb. 7, 2001.

‘‘I watched film on these guys and knew how to time it,’’ said Kirk, who also had 11 rebounds.

But rebounding did in the Demons in the second half, and Providence took advantage with second-chance points. The Friars outrebounded the Demons 23-12 in the second half.

‘‘We have to win those loose-ball battles,’’ Kirk said.

‘‘We didn’t have enough guys converging on the glass,’’ Purnell said. ‘‘Donnavan wasn’t getting a lot of help. That was as big a key as anything. We were winning the rebounding in the first half, and then the ones we needed to have we didn’t get.’’

DePaul shot 19 three-pointers against Providence’s zone defense but made only five. And the Demons made only 8 of 16 free throws compared to the Friars, who went 16-for-23 at the line.

‘‘We have to drive more [against a zone] to get to the line,’’ Purnell said. ‘‘Those are opportunities.

‘‘You have to go through these experiences, but I’d rather go through less of them. You struggle, and your inexperience shows. It’s hard to say it now, but there’s no question these experiences will help us down the road.’’

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