Friar Basketball

Looking Back on 2011-12: Defensive Woes Plague Friars in January


Finding the offense

There was no sense guessing which Providence team would show up on either side of the ball come early January.  A non-existent defense in the Big East opener had seemingly righted itself in holding Georgetown to 49 points on their home floor the next time out.

The offense was just as much of an enigma, poor enough to shoot 25% against Southern and put up a mere 40 against the Hoyas, Providence somehow found their way into a shootout with the nation’s top team to kick of January.

“We’ve stopped everybody, pretty much, this year,” Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim explained after a closer-than-the-scoreboard-indicated 87-73 victory at Providence.  “We couldn’t stop them.  We just outscored them… It was the best shooting night we’ve had all year.  If it hadn’t happened that way, the game could have easily gone the other way.

The Friars played Syracuse to a virtual standstill in the first half (trailing 36-34 at the intermission) and looked to seize momentum mid-way through the second, twice cutting 13 point deficits in half behind an up-tempo offensive attack, and a head coach who seemed to will his team, and the home crowd, (in his first Big East home game at PC) back after every Syracuse dagger.

The Orange just had too many answers, countering every Providence run with back-breaking jumpers on their way to 51 second half points.  Playing only six men, the spirited Friars lacked the depth and talent to go toe to toe with the top team in the country despite 11 points and 13 rebounds from freshman LaDontae Henton and the bounce back effort of Gerard Coleman (team leading 17 points) who went a perfect 7-7 at the free throw line after suffering through a humiliating afternoon the game prior at Georgetown.

It was similar to what Providence fans had seen in early January a season ago against Pittsburgh.  The Friars played at their peak for long stretches against a top five team, but lacked the firepower and ability to get the key stops needed to pull the upset.

And like in 2010-11, the Friar faltered soon after.  The Pitt loss a season prior was met with a surprisingly lifeless road trip that resulted in ugly losses at Rutgers, West Virginia and South Florida.  The 2011-12 bunch saw a similar swoon, dropping five of their next six to close out the month.

An opportunity slipped away at home against 13-2 Seton Hall, as Providence went on a 10-1 run to cut an 11 point lead to one with 3:40 to play, but they were unable to close it out down the stretch.  The game was highlighted by 23 points and nine assists from Vincent Council and a startling 17 Friar blocks (Bilal Dixon had six off the bench in 21 minutes) in holding the Hall to 40% shooting.

The offense stalled however, as Bryce Cotton shot just 1-9 from the field and Coleman (who had been 4-6 shooting with four assists) injured his back on a drive early in the second half.  It was an injury that relegated him to the bench for Providence’s next game, a home contest against Rick Pitino and Louisville.

On a night in which Providence celebrated the 25th anniversary of the 1987 Final Four run, the current edition of the Friars played their most complete game of the season, thrashing Louisville 90-59.

Pitino never made it out of the locker room for the halftime ceremony.  His team didn’t make it for tipoff, falling behind by 18 at the break and never recovering.

With Coleman sidelined (back), PC got monster nights from Cotton and Kadeem Batts.  The model of efficiency, Cotton scored 27 points on only seven field goal attempts, making all five of his 3 point tries and 10-12 from the free throw line in perhaps his best career game.

Batts had never been better in a Friar uniform, hitting mid-range shots, finishing at the rim, and controlling the glass on his way to a 27 point (9-10 from the free throw line), 10 rebound, three block night.

Council was once again the pace-setter, completely out-playing Peyton Siva (2 points, 1-5 shooting), and narrowly missing a triple double once again with 15 points, 14 assist and eight boards

The team that couldn’t throw it in the ocean against Georgetown made 25 of 29 free throws and shot 60% from three.  The formula was familiar – turn misses into open court opportunities.  The Cardinals obliged by missing 15 of 19 from deep, Batts helped clear the glass, Council picked them apart in transition and his teammates finished with far greater consistency than they in the previous two weeks.

It was Providence’s biggest win over a ranked opponent – one that would play in the Final Four two months later.

The bottom falls out

The positive vibes vanished rather quickly, as Council was suspended the next game out – a 78-55 beat-down at the hands of Syracuse.  If the 87-73 loss at home to the Cuse didn’t do justice for how close their first meeting was, the 23 point advantage was nowhere near indicative of how far these teams were from one another without Council on the floor.  It was never a game.

Behind the hot shooting of Cotton (26 points) the Friars raced out to a halftime lead against Marquette at home, but saw the Golden Eagles shoot 68% in the second half, leading Ed Cooley to question his team’s desire, “I’m disappointed in our guys because we showed no mental toughness.”

The month closed with a lifeless road effort against a Pittsburgh team looking for their first Big East win, and a second half lead slipping away at South Florida on a afternoon in which Henton went for 24 first half points (a career high 33 on the night).



Despite the throttling of Louisville and a high-energy night against Syracuse, Providence closed January 1-8 in the Big East and needed to look no further than their defense as to why.

Marquette shot 68% in the second half at the Dunk.  Syracuse went for 61% for the game the first time the two played.  A winless Pittsburgh team hung 86 points on the Friars, while USF shot over 50%.

The schedule certainly didn’t help, but their were opportunities to win in the second half of the Seton Hall, Marquette and South Florida games that Providence simply didn’t capitalize on.

Individually, Henton started the transition from solid Big East rotation player to one of the best freshmen in the conference, scoring double figures in all but one game in the month, logging a pair of double doubles, and breaking the Providence freshman single-game scoring record with 33 in Tampa.  Ironically, he broke the record of Ryan Gomes who set the previous record in the Sunshine State ten years earlier (31 versus Miami on Super Bowl Sunday in 2002).

Cotton had what would be his best month of the season, topping 20 points on three occasions, connecting on 44% of his attempts from beyond the arc.  His 27 points on a mere seven field goals in the Louisville win was indicative of what a swing player he can be when his shot is falling.

Coleman saw a drop in production following his back injury against Seton Hall.  He was solid in the month’s opener versus Syracuse (17 and 6), but after missing the Louisville game due to a bad back he scored only 26 points in the month’s final four games, with a season-low two points on 1-10 shooting against South Florida.  It was his worst stretch of the season.

Inconsistent as ever, both Batts and Dixon had their moments, but failed to bring it on a nightly basis.  Batts went scoreless against Seton Hall before scoring 40 over the next two contests with Syracuse and Louisville and putting up eight and 11 versus Marquette.  That was followed by a two point, one rebound effort at Pittsburgh.  He had three rebounds or less in five of eight games in January.

It was not a month of rest for Council, who played at least 39 minutes in every game, averaging an even nine assists in the six games he played in.  He narrowly missed a pair of triple doubles (26 points, 10 rebounds nine assists vs. Pittsburgh, 15 points, 14 assists, eight boards vs. Louisville) in a month in which he shot well early (over 50% against Syracuse and Seton Hall and 45 vs. Louisville), but saw those numbers drop once he returned from suspension (2-13 vs. Marquette, 10-24 at Pitt, 4-15 at South Florida).

A 1-6 January would prove to be the Friars’ worse month of the season.  Execution down the stretch in several February games kept them from being a .500 team that month, but in January it was their inability to get key stops, or any stops in some instances, that left them 1-8 in conference play come February 1.

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