Friars blow by Xavier, 81-72
Saturday, January 25, 2014
One thing is now certain about the three newcomers to the Big East Conference – they won’t like coming back to the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Not that the amenities aren’t any good, or the coffee isn’t fresh, of course. But the team that calls the Dunk its home floor has run right over and through the three Big East newbies in a row, as Providence held off a strong Xavier team 81-72 Saturday afternoon.
"Today I liked the way we controlled the tempo," Ed Cooley said afterward. "It's really a credit to the preparation, a credit to our guys' mental toughness when the game got close. I thought we showed an incredible amount of poise down the stretch."
Bryce Cotton, who may be the one of the most underrated guards in the country – even though he was a first-team all-Big East player a year ago – led the Friars with 25 points, and LaDontae Henton came up big with his 2nd double-double of the season (23 points, 11 rebounds). But it was the Friar defense that stood out for large stretches, as Musketeer guard and leading scorer Semaj Christon was held to two points at halftime…largely due to the defense played on him by Josh Fortune.
With Xavier holding an early 12-11 lead in the opening eight minutes, PC went on a 11-4 run to take command, thanks to Henton’s aggressiveness primarily on the offensive end. A Cotton three gave the Friars a seven-point lead with 1:58 left, but the Musketeers closed the gap as 6-9 Justin Martin (19 points) hit a late jumper to pull his team within 35-31 at the break.
Christon became more of an offensive force on drives to the basket early in the second half, and after Xavier closed within one at 38-37 on a Matt Stainbrook inside move…Providence managed a 15-4 run, with Cotton and Henton each hitting three’s to ignite the offense. But XU never let the Friars get out of sight, as they’ve earned four big second half comebacks for wins this season…Christon keyed the charge, and Isaiah Philmore hit two free throws to pull Xavier back within four and 7:52 still remaining.
One of the Friar trademarks this year, however, has been to withstand an opposing team’s run by coming up with big plays of their own – and that was again the case. Kadeem Batts and Josh Fortune each hit for big scores to stretch the Friar lead back to 10, and when the Musketeers (15-5, 5-2 Big East) again pulled within four with just 2:13 left, Batts, Cotton and Tyler Harris managed to close it out from the line.
"I was really happy to see LaDontae rebound the ball today, and I think Cotton has been Cotton," Cooley added. "If you tell me there's a guy in the last month that's played better than him, in the country, I want to know who that person is."
The result? A fifth straight win in Big East play for the Friars (15-5, 5-2 Big East), which hasn’t occurred since winning five in a row during the 2003-04 season. That was also the last year PC found itself in the NCAA Tournament.
For now, however, the Friars will settle for a solid home court advantage within the Big East – which they certainly have at the Dunk as Creighton, Butler and now Xavier have learned.
The meeting was just the 4th all-time for PC and XU on the basketball floor, and the Friars have now tied the series up at 2-2. The last game came in 1987, a 96-76 win in Providence…Xavier came into the game as one of the top shooting teams in the league, 2nd to Creighton in field goal percentage and in three-pointers. PC held the Musketeers to 41% from the floor and just three-for-18 (16%) from outside the arc…as a result of forcing the tough two’s, as the coaching staff preaches, XU outscored PC 46-24 in the paint…Xavier also outrebounded the Friars by a slim 40-38 margin, and the Musketeers were the BE leader in rebounding coming in as well…four Friars finished in double figures, as Batts (12 points, eight rebounds) and Harris (12 points, six boards) followed Cotton (25 points, seven assists) and Henton’s efforts…Carson Desrosiers had a big day inside with seven rebounds, six blocks and numerous altered shots against the XU bigs…Xavier’s Martin led their scoring with 19, Christon finished with 18 (16 in the second half) and 6-10 center Matt Stainbrook scored 11 points with nine boards…PC will look to extend their Big East win streak to six games at a place where they’ve never won previously. Next up, the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI against Marquette Thursday night (6:45 pm on 103.7 FM and friars.com), where the Friars are 0-7 all time. A win would be Providence’s longest league winning streak since Rick Pitino’s ’87 team won six straight in one stretch on their way to the Final Four…the Friar Legends Forever Tradition continued at halftime of the game, as Joe Hassett, Kevin Stacom and Tracy Lis were all honored, and Hassett and Stacom's jerseys were raised into the Dunk rafters. Lis, as the all-time women's scoring leader at PC, will have her jersey banner hanging at Alumni Hall on campus...