It looked as though the season might be getting away from Ed Cooley and his Friars. Just a week ago, Providence had lost nine of their previous eleven games after falling to Connecticut in overtime, but where others saw questions marks the coach saw signs of improvement.
“We’ve put three games together in a row as far as effort goes. We didn’t get lucky in a couple of instances. In particular in the last two games I really think our practices have paid off the way we have concentrated defensively.”
Over the past three years, the season had begun to unravel by early February and it looked as though we were headed down that path again after the UConn loss (with one writer going as far as to question if Cooley had lost his team), but Providence showed resilience in holding off several Villanova runs on their way to a much-needed road victory on Sunday.
They carried that momentum into Wednesday, where they upset #17 Cincinnati, 54-50. They did so by following a formula that had been unfamiliar to Friartown in recent seasons – dominating interior play and overcoming a poor shooting night thanks to terrific half court defense that saw PC hold the Bearcats to just 37% shooting from the field.
Rapid Reaction to Providence’s Second Straight Victory:
Friars Control Throughout. Cincinnati had the ball down by two points with under ten seconds to go, but Sean Kilpatrick lost control of his dribble when pressured by Lee Goldsbrough, resulting in a backcourt violation. Had Kilpatrick knocked down a three pointer it would have given Cincy their first lead since it was 6-4 in the opening minutes.
This was a red-hot Bearcat team coming in, one that had won five of their last six games. Once Providence took a lead on a Josh Fortune layup with just over 12 minutes to play in the first half they’d never trail again. In fact, Cincinnati never pulled back even.
Goldsbrough the early story. Once again, Providence was slow out of the gate, but the junior forward provided them with a huge lift in the first half. Grabbing four offensive rebounds, scoring three buckets and drawing a trio of charges prior to halftime. It was fitting that he was around the ball on the key play late, as Providence would not have been in position to pull this one out without his tremendous first half.
The Turning Point. PC led by seven early in the second half, but Cincinnati raced back to cut it to 30-29 with 16:21 left after Kilpatrick knocked down a three. The momentum had turned and Providence’s best scorer had yet to score a point.
What makes Providence a dangerous team, however, is Bryce Cotton’s ability to swing a game in a matter of two or three possessions.
Coming out of a timeout, Cooley drew up a play to get Cotton an open look from three that he knocked down, and suddenly PC was back up four. Just over a minute later Cotton found the mark again, hitting another three to bump the lead back to seven.
After Cincy hit a pair of free throws, Cotton was fouled on a three point shot, made all three, and Providence was back to a comfortable eight point lead once again with just under 13 minutes to go.
Scoreless for the game’s first 24 minutes, he had nine in just a few possessions to break the game open a bit.
Batts shines. Kadeem Batts continues to make believers. After Cotton’s free throws pushed the advantage to eight, Batts scored eight of the game’s next 11 points and suddenly Providence led by 13 with 6:50 left.
Batts finished with a team-high 25 points and nine rebounds.
Key to his success was staying on the floor. He was all but taken out of Sunday’s win with foul trouble, but he’s a consistent threat when he can stay on the floor. Unfortunately for Batts, he’s seemingly alternated games in which he’s been in foul trouble.
His last five games are a great example. When he’s played 25 minutes or more, in that span he has produced – 25 and 9 tonight, 20 and 9 versus UConn, and 17 and 9 against Marquette. Against both Nova and Marquette he played less than 20 minutes with foul trouble and combined for just eight points and six rebounds in those two games.
The question with Batts is no longer if he can produce in the Big East, but how to ensure he stays on the floor.
Craig caught up with him after the game.
Making the stand. We’d been down this path before with the Friars. They’d often been competitive enough to come up just short, but not tough enough to get the stops to put them over the top.
Providence came up with perhaps their best defensive stand of the season with two minutes left, leading 50-48. They overcame giving up two offensive rebounds on the trip and forced Cashmere Wright into a miss to close out the stand. It was a fitting wrap to a very good defensive performance.
Kilpatrick and Wright combined to shoot 7-25.
Cincinnati made just one field goal over the final 3:25 of the game.
This wasn’t the Friars turning the game into a scramble with their full court pressure, but them digging in in the half court set, where they’d struggled to get stops dating back to late-December losses to Brown and Boston College.
What does it mean? Providence has now won two in a row with a full week to prepare for South Florida. The Bulls are a Big East-worst 1-9 in conference play.
With Wednesday’s win the Friars have matched their conference win total of the past three seasons with seven to play, and they will have an opportunity to win their third Big East game in a row for the first time since January 2009.
Credit Cooley for getting this group to come together for back to back wins when it appeared as though the season was on the brink of falling apart.
“It was a great win for us. It has been an up and down season but I think in particular our last three games we are starting to show a little bit of consistency and trying to play better basketball,” Cooley said afterwards.