Friars sneak past Scarlet Knights
Sunday, February 24, 2013
This was a game that would have been lost back in December.
As Ed Cooley introduced and re-introduced players into the Providence lineup earlier this season, the Friars were never quite able to get on the same page with their coach - or with each other. Perhaps that's finally changed now, after a 76-72 come-from-behind win on the road at Rutgers Saturday night in Piscataway, NJ.
As this Friar team has learned - often times the hard way - it takes a strong defensive effort to have a chance to win in the Big East night in and night out. These Friars didn't give that kind of an effort early against a Scarlet Knights' team hanging onto this season by a thread, begging to be knocked out. They finally took a KO punch that did them in, but not before PC gave them every opportunity to stay in it...or even win it.
An early 13-3 run gave Rutgers a 15-5 lead in the opening five minutes, before Providence found a rhythm to its' offense, and a cork to plug a hole in the defense. After managing to hit just one of their first nine shots from the field, two free throws from Kris Dunn pulled PC within two at 18-16 with 10:15 left in the half, before RU ran off nine unanswered points - capped by a Dane Miller fade away three - and a 27-16 advantage with 7:26 to go.
Second chance opportunities allowed by the Friars kept Rutgers in command of the game with a 33-23 lead and 4:41 left, before the tables turned.
And the Friars remembered they had a defense.
A Bryce Cotton jumper, a three-pointer from Vincent Council and another trey from LaDontae Henton quickly moved PC back within two points at 33-31, after missed layups from Derrick Randall and Kadeem Jack. A Council layup and tip-in by Josh Fortune gave the Friars the lead...and by the time the half had ended, Providence had scored 19 unanswered points on Rutgers and led the game 42-33.
Nineteen straight points over the final 4:41. Similar to the 17-0 run to open the second half against USF almost two weeks ago...the Friars finally decided it was time to buckle down defensively, limiting Rutgers to just two made buckets in their last nine shots of the half. And it paid off.
The Scarlet Knights, losers of nine of their last 10 games overall, didn't quite go down as easily as Providence might have figured, however. After a Miller layup with 10:58 to play, RU fought back to tie the score at 52-52. Earlier in this season, the Friars might have found a way to fall back and lose a game like this...especially on the road. But big shots by Kadeem Batts (14 points, eight rebounds), a three from Henton (18 points, 10 rebounds) and several key shots from Bryce Cotton (22 points) kept turning the Knights away every time they challenged for the lead.
Holding a 64-61 lead with 4:17 left, Myles Mack (nine points, five assists) missed a layup, and Council found Cotton streaking up the floor for a dunk the other way for a little breathing room, if not momentum. And again, after Rutgers closed within 72-69 and just :48 seconds left, Council sealed it with another drive to the hoop...after he had an earlier chance to help put the game away but missed on two big free-throw attempts.
Call it redemption, perhaps. Call it clutch defense, maybe. But the Friars can call it a win...which they might not have been able to do just a few short weeks ago.
The win for PC now gives them five victories in their last six Big East games, and improves their record to 15-12 overall, 7-8 in league play. The win also gives Providence a three game lead over Rutgers in the standings with three left to play, and hands PC no worse than the #10 seed for the upcoming Big East Tournament - significant, because the Friars avoid having to play in the Tuesday night opening round...Henton's double-double is his 10th of the season, and 19th of his two-year career thus far...sophomore big man Kadeem Jack also had a double-double, with 15 points and 10 rebounds for Rutgers (13-13, 4-11 Big East), while Mack - who had scored 52 points in the two games since leading scorer Eli Carter was lost with a broken leg - was held to just nine points. Dane Miller led RU with 17 points, and Mike Poole added 11...while the Knights outrebounded PC 44-37, the edge came from the three-point stripe, as PC hit 8-for-20 (40%) while Rutgers managed to connect on just 3-for-9 (33%). A full third (20 of 61) of PC's total shots came from outside the arc...each team only had seven turnovers, the 7 by RU was the lowest total against the Friar defense this season. PC did turn those mistakes, however, into 11 points...the win for the Friars gives them 10 wins in the last 11 meetings with Rutgers and three straight overall in the series. RU had been 6-2 in games decided by five points or less this season, before dropping this one...Providence now has its second week off during the Big East regular season this week, before facing St. John's at the Dunk next Saturday night at 8:00 pm. A home game against Seton Hall and a road trip to UConn will round out the schedule, prior to the BET at Madison Square Garden beginning March 12th...