We’re going to find out a lot about this Providence team very soon.
PC hadn’t had a conference winning streak of four games or more since 2004. That was the year the Friars had won six in a row before being hammered by Pittsburgh, 88-61, in a March loss that sent the season in a downward spiral. Providence didn’t win again that season after peaking at #12 in the AP poll.
While the stakes (and the expectations) weren’t nearly as high on Wednesday night when PC visited Syracuse, the result was similar, as Syracuse ripped off a 27-2 first-half run, taking a 43-16 lead into the locker room against a dazed Providence bunch.
PC was held to under 30% shooting in the opening half, whereas Syracuse shot nearly 60%, making 4-6 from three point range. Key to the run was Syracuse’s redshirt senior James Southerland who’d struggled to find his shot in Providence. That wasn’t the case Wednesday night, as he hit 6-7 in the first for 14 points off of the bench.
The second half wasn’t much better, as Syracuse rolled to an 84-59 victory.
And after a 4-0 February start, Providence will now have to quickly regroup.
For all of the injuries and reshuffled rosters PC has had to deal with this season, Ed Cooley may be facing his biggest challenge following a humbling night on national television. His team struggled to find their confidence for a month and a half, but captured it during the streak, playing at their peak in leading wire to wire against Notre Dame on Saturday. Does this loss sap them of that confidence, or can Cooley get them back on track for the final stretch of the season?
Saturday night at Rutgers now becomes a pivotal game for Cooley’s team. With Syracuse riding a near 40-game home winning streak, few expected the Friars to come out on top on Wednesday, but it was how quickly, and early, they fell out of this one that was stunning after their strong four-game run.
Providence finishes with four winnable games to close out the season and a win on Saturday makes this loss a minor blip on the radar.
1. Council sets Big East mark. It’s been a big week for Vincent Council. On Saturday he broke Ernie DiGregorio’s Providence assist record, and tonight he set the Big East mark for career assists – snapping a 20+ year record set by Syracuse grad Sherman Douglas. Council was one of the few Friars who seemed comfortable playing against Syracuse’s length and defensive tenacity in this one. He whipped a few beautiful passes through their 2-3 zone and got into the middle at times as well. He finished the night with 15 points, seven assists and five steals.
2. Taking the air. Cooley has spoken on more than one occasion about respecting Syracuse’s open court ability offensively, and it appeared as though the Friars were set to slow the game down and take the air out of the ball. They were somewhat effective early, trailing by a bucket 12 minutes in, but once the Orange got their offense rolling PC was unable to answer in their halfcourt sets, scoring just one field goal over the final eight minutes of the first half.
3. Turnaround from deep. Providence made nine 3 point field goals the last time these two played, while Syracuse connected on just three. Syracuse went 5-10 tonight, while PC was way off, making just 3-18.
4. MCW picks Friars apart. Michael Carter-Williams had his way with the Friars, scoring 15 points and dishing out 12 assists in his best game in quite some time. He’d combined for four assists in his last two games, but passed over and around Providence throughout this game.
5. Henton battles on glass, struggles to finish. When this was a game early, LaDontae Henton did a fine job controlling the glass for PC. Syracuse didn’t have an offensive rebound for the first 12 minutes of this game – it was just a two-point game when they grabbed their first.
Henton finished the night with 15 points on 7-19 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds. Council set him up for a number of shots at the rim late in the game, and his inability to connect from inside late kept him from a potential 20/13 night. He was 7-13 at one point but missed his final six shots, most of which came in the paint.
6. Tale of two benches. Sparked by Southerland, Syracuse’s bench scored 18 points in the first half. Conversely, Providence’s bench was shut out for a majority of the game, managing just a pair of late game dunks by Brice Kofane and Ted Bancroft in the game’s final minutes.
7. Cotton, Batts slowed. Jim Boeheim was perturbed with his team’s inability to find Bryce Cotton the last time these two played. Cotton made four 3 pointers in a four minute span in the first half that night – a spurt that turned a six point deficit into a three point PC lead. This time, the Orange didn’t just find him but shut the league’s leading scorer down, holding him to 10 points on 3-10 shooting.
Kadeem Batts had been absolutely stellar heading into this one, but he struggled in the first half and appeared to get deflated when this game started slipping away from Providence. He still got to the line for 10 foul shots, but made just 3-10 from the field and didn’t start getting to the line until the game was out of reach.