Friar Basketball

“20 in 60” Series: #5 Henton Primed for Breakout Sophomore Campaign

Henton

Heading into his sophomore season Ryan Gomes was looking to build off one of the most complete freshman campaigns in Providence history.  His 13.8 points per game were second all time for a PC freshman, as were his 7.8 rebounds and near 56% shooting percentage.  On Super Bowl Sunday he set a Providence freshman scoring record, scoring 31 points in an overtime loss at Miami.

The freshman season of Gomes was a bright spot in a disappointing season.  Fresh off of an NCAA Tournament bid in 2001 and returning Big East Defensive Player of the Year John Linehan (it goes somewhat forgotten that Linehan and Gomes were teammates for a season) hopes were high in Providence.  Tim Welsh returned an experienced core including promising sophomore center Marcus Douthit, Abdul Mills, Rome Augustin, Maris Laksa, Sheiku Kabba and Chris Anrin (all six played a role in helping the surprising Friars make the 2001 tourney), but injuries to Mills and Augustin and an inexplicable step back for Douthit were too much to overcome, as the group fell well below expectations.

The season wasn’t a total waste – Linehan broke the NCAA record for career steals, and the deterioration of the returning core opened the door for Gomes, who sat through his first seven games before recording 15 points and 8 rebounds at South Carolina in his first career game.  He never looked back.

Linehan had broken the steals record and earned Honorable Mention All American status in his fifth year at PC, but the torch had quietly been passed to Gomes who scored with an ease that hadn’t been seen from a Providence big man in recent memory.

A year later Gomes was a near double-double sophomore (18.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and by season’s end was as good an interior scorer as there was in the Big East.  Providence finished 8-3 in their last 11 games.  By his junior season, Gomes was an All American for a Tournament team that peaked at #12 nationally, and the year after that he was drafted by the Celtics after breaking Jimmy Walker’s school scoring record.

A freshman emerges 10 years later

Ten years later LaDontae Henton made his way to Providence.  He wasn’t a New England prospect like Gomes (coming via Lansing, MI), but there were certain similarities.  Neither saw their name on a top 100 list (Gomes was lucky to find himself in a top 200), both were supposedly too short to effectively score in the paint in the Big East, and each produced from the first time they stepped on the court.

Yes, he played about five more minutes per game than Gomes, but Henton finished his freshman season averaging more points (14.3) and rebounds (8.6) per game than the Providence great.

Nearly ten years to the day of Gomes’ record breaking afternoon against Miami, Henton topped Gomes’ freshman scoring mark – doing so in the Sunshine State as well, with 33 points versus a massive South Florida front-court.

In fairness, Gomes averaged 17.5 points per 40 minutes versus Henton’s 15.3, and he shot over 10 percentage points higher than Henton, but the 44 three pointers Henton made (Gomes attempted only three, missing each) pushed his effective field goal percentage up to 51% – closer to Gomes’ 56%.

Gomes finished his freshman season with four double doubles.  Henton?  Nine.

Both were undersized power forwards, but how they accumulated those numbers differed.  Gomes was a strict post player as a freshman – one who made scoring in the paint seem easy, rarely missing when finding room inside.  Henton became a match-up problem when he slid to the four spot halfway through his freshman year – too quick for big men, too big for small forwards – Henton was a near 40% three point shooter who was just as capable of cleaning the offensive glass and finishing inside.  While not the automatic deuce Gomes was inside as a freshman, Henton was a more versatile scorer in his first season.

The sophomore leap

As good as Gomes was as a freshman, it was his evolution as a sophomore that had those around Providence believing he had the chance to be one of the best in program history by season’s end.  And it went far beyond a statistical breakdown.

Yes, he consistently put up fat stat lines (a whopping 17 double doubles were highlighted by 24 and 15 versus URI, 26 in an inspired effort against UConn, and 26 in 15 in the Big East Tournament against West Virginia), but Gomes became elite by pulling a program out of a year and a half downward trend by dominating the paint and expanding his face up game to 17 feet.

As his game evolved, the numbers did as well, but a breakdown of per 40 statistics falls woefully short in telling the story of how Gomes’ sophomore season restored hope in the Providence fanbase.

By season’s end, the Friars were winning.

They won eight of their last 11 games.  They went on the road to defeat Connecticut, manhandled West Virginia in the Big East Tournament, and gave #4 Pittsburgh all they could handle in the second round.  The momentum carried into Gomes’ junior season – a year in which PC wracked up win after win against quality opponents (including defending national champion Syracuse and that year’s eventual title winners from UConn)  behind their All American.

The program that was trending south a year earlier tied a school record for Big East wins and peaked at #12 nationally – and Gomes became a star because of it.

Henton’s Opportunity

Things aren’t quite the same for Henton ten years later, but the opportunity to cement his Providence legacy may be.

Thanks in part to playing alongside the best play-maker in the Big East in Vincent Council and preceeding the most decorated PC freshman class in 20 years, Henton has flown under the Big East radar a bit, despite firmly planting himself in the top 3 in both scoring and rebounding as a freshman at Providence.

The offseason talk largely centered around the eligibility of Ricardo Ledo and was tempered by Kris Dunn’s shoulder injury.  When the discussion of the returning roster occurs it’s typically about Council turning into the best lead guard in the Big East or how Cooley will fill squeeze minutes out of an inexperienced front-court.

If the Friars are to break out of their recent swoon in the next season or two (PC has been unable to crack five conference wins the last three seasons) it will be with Henton as the centerpiece, and like Gomes before him, it will be the win total that will define his legacy as a Friar.

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Henton’s Best of 2011-12

Most encouraging was Henton’s continued growth as a freshman.  He played perhaps his best basketball in Providence’s final three games — two of which were victories.

His best overall game came on the road at DePaul, where he did a bit of everything.  Matched up with All-Big East performer Cleveland Melvin, Henton scored 24 points, snatched 15 rebounds, blocked three shots and came up with a couple of steals.  He hit the game winning shot with .7 left on the clock and blocked DePaul’s final shot attempt at the buzzer.

The next time out he was just as clutch.  Clinging to a 63-61 lead with under two minutes to play, the Friars found Henton who hit a rainbow three pointer over Andre Drummond to push the lead to five.  After a PC stop Henton hit a seemingly impossible three as the shot clock wound down to bump the lead to 69-61 with a minute to play, all but ending it.

His regular season closed with 18 points and 12 rebounds at Notre Dame.

Email Kevin at kevin.farrahar@friarbasketball.com