Another man down, another resilient victory for Ed Cooley’s Friars. As encouraged as Cooley sounded after Providence’s victory over Holy Cross on Tuesday night, the typically upbeat coach seemed to be questioning what could possibly happen next for the Friars who lost junior guard Bryce Cotton to a knee injury late in the first half. It’s hard to blame him, “I’m taking a deep breath trying to get my emotions together. It’s a great win. Under the circmstances I am very proud of my group. My mind is not even in this room right now. It is on our players. I really appreciate the effort.”
It was a nearly flawless opening stanza for the Friars who shot 50% from the field while holding the Bulldogs to just 5-26 shooting, with Kadeem Batts scoring inside and out on his way to 16 points. Batts continues to show a diversified offensive game, confidently connecting on his jump shot and showing a refined post game, as he carried the load for the Friars after Cotton went down in scoring a career-high 32 points.
Providence also got a lift from LaDontae Henton. The sophomore forward scored only four points in the first half in battling through foul trouble, but rebounded well over the final 20 to finish with an efficient 18 on the afternoon (5-8 from the floor, 8-8 free throws).
Without Cotton Providence struggled late, however. What looked to be a comfortable 26 point lead halfway through the second half was cut to just five with under a minute to play, but clutch free throws by Batts and Henton sealed the game late, as Providence closed on a 5-0 run to win it 73-63.
Here is our video recap of the game, as Craig caught up with Kadeem Batts:
1. Cotton’s injury is the latest in a ridiculous string of bad luck for the Friars. It’s almost unbelievable at this point. Cotton was fouled taking a three point shot in the field half, landing awkwardly and leaving the game after taking his three foul shots.
That the Friars suffered yet another injury is unfair, that it happened to Cotton is plain cruel. Cotton came into the game leading the Big East in scoring, and is one of only two players nationally averaging 23 points, five rebounds and four assists per game. He’s been a rock for a team battling through an unimaginable string of bad fortune. The Friars are 6-1 with him in the lineup this year.
His injury continues the state of roster flux Cooley has been faced with this year, and it comes with in-state rival Rhode Island coming to town on Thursday night.
Cotton left the locker room and left to get an MRI in the second half. Unbelievable.
2. Through it all, the Friars continue to play through it all. The defense has remained stingy, holding Mississippi State to 35% shooting on the day, and a woeful 2-22 from three point range. The Friars past two opponents have combined to shoot 3-42 from three point range.
Batts continues to provide stability on in the interior (32 points, 8 rebounds), Henton seems to be righting himself after a slow shooting start, while freshman Josh Fortune has dished out 15 assists over the past two games, despite struggling at times with turnovers (5 turnovers today).
Cooley on the diversity they are facing, “I don’t know what else can go wrong now other than I have another back surgery, but something good is going to come out of this. I can tell you that. I can’t be down, but my emotions are down because I love my players.”
3. Ted Bancroft continues to provide a defensive lift. Much of what he does won’t appear on the statsheet, but Bancroft has been one of the Friars’ most reliable and active defenders when given the opportunity. The numbers were there today (7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal) but his greatest impact comes from getting deflections and closing out at the top of Providence’s 2-3 zone, where an argument can be made for him as PC’s best perimeter defender in the zone.
His play has been symbolic of the effort Cooley has gleaned from this group – gritty and very necessary, “Our guys just really understand some of the things we are trying to do out of it. In the last two games teams are shooting 3 for 43 from the three, or something like that. We’re just doing a really good job forcing teams into tough twos. I am proud of the fact that people come in here and are uncomfortable. I love when people are uncomfortable in our building. I hope they are really uncomfortable from here going forward.”
4. Providence never trailed once again on Saturday. It may be a bit of an afterthought in light of Cotton going down, but the Friars opened with one of their best spurts of the season, jumping out to a 13-1 lead four minutes in. Six of those 13 points came on jump shots from Batts, who looks as comfortable as ever pulling the trigger from the top of the key.
Cooley gave Batts high praise afterwards, “Kadeem was a lottery pick today. He had incredible presence on the floor. He was great in the huddle. He was great in the locker room.”
“Our players responded in the second half. There was incredible energy, a lot of deflections. It was a great team effort. I really don’t have a lot to say other than I am just proud of our group and I am going to the hospital to see Cotton after this.”
He added, “I couldn’t be more proud of our players. When you look at the adversity and what we have dealt with it is a credit to our players, and it is a credit to our staff. It is a credit to our medical staff. These young men deserve a ton of credit. I don’t think any other team in the country can do what we have done. To persevere through the adversity.”
5. Despite Cooley’s urgings after the Holy Cross game, the crowd was still a small one, with 6,156 fans in attendance. It was a livelier crowd on Saturday, but not quite the level of what we should expect to see on Thursday night when URI comes to down.
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