Confidence is a fragile thing in college basketball. Continuity is as well. Providence is lacking both at this point and when combined with a lack of energy the result is what we saw at the Dunkin Donuts Center on Saturday night. DePaul came to Providence with an edge and turned a seven point halftime lead into a 22 point cushion in a sound beating of a Friar team searching for its identify.
That identity appeared to be coming into focus in the first semester. Junior Bryce Cotton had a terrific first two months of the season, averaging over 22 points per game. Fellow junior Kadeem Batts finished the semester playing the best basketball of his career, scoring 55 points in the final two wins over Rhode Island and Mississippi State.
With Josh Fortune providing solid minutes in a role no one expected him to play this early, and LaDontae Henton finding his footing after an inconsistent start, the thought in Friartown was that even if Sidiki Johnson, Kris Dunn and Vincent Council were brought along slowly, it was a group that was getting enough production from their core to score wins over the likes of Boston College and Brown on the road and DePaul when they came to town.
Plugging in those pieces, and overcoming a knee injury to Cotton, has come at the expense of continuity which has led to the drop in confidence.
What isn’t easy to explain was why there was such an apparent lack of urgency throughout this game for the Friars. Perhaps it was the fact that DePaul had won only two Big East road games since the 2009-10 season, but the difference in the energy level of the two teams was blatantly apparent on Saturday night. DePaul got chippy at times, their bench poured onto the court after Ed Cooley called a timeout to quell their momentum in the second half, and they forced 22 turnovers en route to an 83-73 victory.
After struggling through their previous two games – losses to Loyola (IL) and Seton Hall – star junior Cleveland Melvin led the Demons in a 23 point, nine rebound bounce-back effort. Interior defense has been a problem for the Friars in their four game losing streak, with the likes of BC’s Ryan Anderson and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng getting what they wanted inside, and Melvin continued that trend on Saturday.
Traditionally one of the weaker defensive teams in the Big East, and the worst team in field goal percentage defense in the conference coming in, DePaul held the discombobulated Friars to 38% shooting from the field and without a three point field goal until the 2:42 mark of the second half. Those numbers, when combined with the 22 turnovers were telling of the offensive woes Providence had throughout the night.
1. The challenge in front of Cooley. Sidiki Johnson was one of the bright spots on Saturday night, playing with renewed aggression after seeing limited minutes on Wednesday. He ended the night with a career-high 13 rebounds (7 on the offensive glass) and nine points and gave Providence a much-needed physical presence inside. His night was symbolic of a bigger problem facing the head coach: you don’t know what you’ll get from game to game from this roster.
After fighting through the flu and not being a factor at Boston College, Henton lit up Brown for 37 points before going quiet again this week.
Cotton’s knee is a continuing issue, forcing him to sit out of practice Friday and come off of the bench tonight. It was drained again on Saturday.
Dunn was terrific in his debut, but is still sorting out his role with this group.
And on it goes.
Cooley talked about it after the game, “The whole changing of personnel and now trying to gel has been extremely difficult to try to implement because you have guys that don’t practice that play. It has been hard as you have no court chemistry. You are just hoping that they are the same person (in the games) and they are clearly not the same person.”
2. Ted Brancroft came in when the Friars were desperate and provided a significant defensive lift in PC’s full court press. He had two steals in only six minutes and when paired with Dunn flustered DePaul’s ball handlers over the final seven minutes. Like Johnson, Bancroft’s effort level was tremendous and appeared to carry over to his teammates.
3. It’s rare that Providence takes 34 free throws and loses, but they struggled from the stripe, missing 12 free throws in what was just an ugly offensive night from nearly every angle. They shot poorly from the field, turned it over and had trouble converting at the line. Credit DePaul for forcing Providence out of their offense – they played with an improved defensive intensity.
4. Road warriors? After the game Oliver Purnell noted that DePaul is now 4-0 on the road this season. They also defeated Auburn and Arizona State on the road.
5. Providence trailed by double digits for nearly 17 minutes in the second half. A pair of Cotton three pointers and a free throw from the junior guard brought PC to within eight with just under two minutes to play, but they never truly threatened.
6. After the game Cooley said on more than one occasion that he has to do a better job coaching this bunch. He talked about some of the struggles of getting this team turned around, but emphasized that he thinks there is potential there, “Right now we are just not playing well. We seem out of sync in a lot of different ways. It’s frustrating because I see what it could be. It’s just not there yet so I’ve got to make sure I do a better job in preparing my group.
“I am as disappointed as anyone in the room, trust me… you have to pick yourself up, you’ve got to dust off and continue to be positive with your group. There is plenty of time, there is plenty of time to continue to build, but right now is not the time to beat up your team. I have to coach them, educate them and be positive with them.”
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