Friar Basketball

Looking back on 2011-12: An Up and Down December


Part III of a a six part, month-by-month breakdown of the past year. 


Wrapping up the out of conference schedule

The late-November victory over Holy Cross kicked off Providence’s longest winning streak of the season.  While not expected to make noise in the SEC, South Carolina on the road looked to be a challenge for a Friar club that had just won its first road game in two years, but as would come to be the case throughout the season, when PC got a lift from an interior player they were a different team.

After a largely ineffective November, Bilal Dixon was a force on the defensive end, blocking seven shots in 22 minutes, as he and freshman LaDontae Henton (18 points, 8 rebounds, 3-3 from three) teamed to control the glass, while Gerard Coleman continued his strong start – going 10-13 from the stripe to match Henton with a game-high 18 points – as Providence won on the road for the second straight time, 76-67.  Coleman had scored at least 17 points in five of the Friars’ first seven games.

Vincent Council just missed a triple double (21 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds) the next night out against Brown.  Bryce Cotton connected on four 3 pointers, Henton had his fourth straight big game with 19 points and 9 boards, while the Friars held Brown to 29% shooting in an 80-49 drubbing.

A fourth consecutive victory came in a rather bland game against Boston College (Henton again led the way with 21 points in a 64-57 win), while Providence avoided disaster against 1-8 Bryant thanks to the best game of Cotton’s career to date – 34 points on 11-16 from the field and 10-10 at the free throw line.

After topping New Hampshire 67-52 (Coleman had a team-high 20 points, Council another near triple double with 17 points, 12 assists, 7 boards) Providence held a deceptive 10-2 record heading into their final out of conference game of the season – a road trip to Rhode Island’s Ryan Center where PC had never won.

There were positive signs.  PC had won six straight, Cotton and Henton were emerging, Council was dominating players he should, Coleman put up fatter stat lines than most remember, and the return of Kadeem Batts after a first semester suspension could possibly give this team a fifth reliable starter.  Henton had been on an island inside, and was doing an admirable job cleaning the glass (24 rebounds in the two games leading up to URI), and the hope in Friartown was that Batts would take a similar leap as Cotton had in his sophomore season.

Few Providence fans felt comfortable chalking up the Rhode Island game as a win beforehand, not after the second half collapses they had seen in the Ryan Center since the building opened, and when the 1-10 Rams trailed only 35-33 at halftime it looked as though it would be down to the wire once again.

The Friars defense tightened in the second half, however, allowing Providence to get out and run on their way to 45 second half points in a comfortable 80-61 victory.  Cotton (5-13 from the field, 7-8 at the stripe) led all scorers with 19 points, followed up by Coleman’s 16 on 8-12 shooting.  Batts contributed 7 points on 3-4, working off the rust in his return.


A Big (East) wake-up call

A seven game winning streak and an 11-2 mark had Friar fans feeling quietly confident heading into their Big East opener in late December – a road trip to Queens, NY against a St. John’s team in the process of turning over its roster.  The Johnnies had already lost to Northeastern and Detroit and nipped Lehigh (how good could they be?), Fordham and Texas-Pan American.

Fueled by a torrid start offensively, St. John’s ripped through the Friars, 91-67 behind a Big East freshman debut record 32 points from Moe Harkless and 25 more from fellow freshman D’Angelo Harrison.

Ed Cooley, your thoughts?  “We were pathetic in every way. Every wart re-emerged.”

It was hard to argue with him.  St. John’s entered the game ranked 15th in the Big East in scoring, while PC turned the ball over 20 times against their inexperienced foes.  Harkless was unstoppable, shooting 14-17 from the field and grabbing 13 rebounds in what Cooley termed “the worst defensive game I’ve ever coached.”

Effort couldn’t be faulted in a December-closing road game at Georgetown, a club that had won ten straight coming in. In one of the ugliest offensive games in Big East history, the Friars erased an 11 point second half deficit to tie the game with eight minutes to play, but woeful shooting from the field (a PC Big East record-setting low 25%) resulted in a mere 40 points in a nine point loss.

The Hoyas smothering defense was even better than most realized in late-December, and their length exposed Friar deficiencies that would be on display throughout the 2011-12 season.  Cotton (2-8) was taken out of the game, Batts went 1-8 in his second game back, Kofane was the only reserve to play more than five minutes (only Dixon got off the pine, grabbing a rebound in five minutes), and while Henton was his steady self, Council struggled to generate offense (4-15), stalling the entire operation.

Amid the ugliness, it was Coleman’s afternoon that drew the ire of fans on message boards and Twitter.  The sophomore missed nine of his ten attempts from the field and seven of eight at the free throw line, in one of the worst shooting performances in recent memory.


December Notes and Trends:

Although they were dreadful offensively against Georgetown, the loss was reassuring to Providence fans who had experienced two years of defensive ineptitude prior to 2011-12 and saw their worst fears realized when a green St. John’s team hung 91 points on them in the Big East opener.

Yes, they let one slip away, but in holding Georgetown to 49 points, and only 22 in the second half, Providence at least showed they didn’t intend to be the defensive sieve they were previously.  It’s indicative of just how flawed this team was defensively when fans walked away feeling good after their team scored only 40 points on a Big East school record low 25% shooting from the field.  Yet, Cooley’s first season was all about growth and effort, and the trip to DC showed a team willing to get after it defensively – and one that had quickly improved in that regard from one game to the next.

Coleman was vilified for his play against the Hoyas, and he was woeful, but the game served as a turning point for many fans, with the sophomore serving as a lightning rod going forward. He had scored at least 17 points in nine of the first 14 games heading in (double figures in each), and had produced some of his best games against high major opponents (20 and 8 versus Iowa State, 18 at South Carolina, 20 at St. John’s).  Still, his production was viewed as coming against weak opponents by some and after the Georgetown debacle he became a focal point in a turbulent sophomore year.

By December’s end, Henton had established himself as the most consistent performer on the team.  He’d grabbed 53 rebounds in the month’s final five games and had at least nine rebounds in 10 of the first 15 overall.  He was a steadying force on an otherwise non-existent frontcourt.

Council had been the team’s stabilizer throughout the first two months, yet this best basketball was still in front of him.  Three times he flirted with a triple double, he’d tied Cotton and Coleman for the most 20+ point nights on the team with four, and he’d already had three 10+ assist games.

What became apparent through December was that this team needed big scoring nights from Cotton and some sort of frontcourt lift if they were going to compete.  Five times through the first two months of the season Providence went over 80 points, and not surprisingly, Cotton was key in each, averaging 22.4 points in those wins.  Conversely, when he struggled PC had difficulty putting up points on the likes of Southern (Cotton went 1-9, the team scored only 59 on 26% from the field).

Cotton was PC’s swing player, putting up numbers when they played well, while struggling when he did.  It was a trend that continued all season.

The frontcourt continued to be the achilles, to the surprise of few.  Two games were not enough to judge Batts on, while Dixon played less than 10 minutes in four of the last five games in December.  Kofane provided an occasional spark (at least nine rebounds three times in December and seven blocks against Boston College), while Goldsbrough had been relegated to the bench, peaking at four minutes played in a December blowout.

Between the four, only Dixon managed to score double figures in a game in December, when he had 10 against South Carolina.

The road didn’t look to let up any for the Friars, with a pair of games against #1 Syracuse sandwiching visits from #15 Louisville and Seton Hall in the first half of January.

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