Story Highlights include:
- Council benching kicks off odd day in Providence
- UConn using formula PC has used against them: lose interior, make key 3s
- Friars grab 28 offensive rebounds, struggle to convert
- Late free throws put PC in desperation mode
What an odd day in Friartown.
It started early on Thursday when senior guard Vincent Council let it slip on Twitter that he and PC’s leading rebounder LaDontae Henton wouldn’t be starting against Connecticut. His thoughts led to a variety comments from former teammates who since departed after Ed Cooley took over the program.
Cooley has spoken at length this year about Council’s development on and off the court, but it was natural to wonder if Council not starting was the result of some sort of disciplinary action.
It was still a bit unclear afterwards (more on that in a moment).
Council entered the game after sitting for the first ten minutes and played perhaps his best game of the season – 15 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds in 31 determined minutes. It was the kind of assertive effort Friar fans had been waiting for in his senior season.
We’ll never know what was said behind closed doors, but he certainly played like someone who got a message on Thursday.
But it wasn’t enough.
Connecticut won 82-79 in overtime in a game that saw:
- The Huskies rush out to a 15 point lead in Council’s absence
- PC cut the lead to just one at the half, despite shooting 29% to UConn’s 52
- 15 ties and ten lead changes.
The game closed with Bryce Cotton (18 points) rimming out a potential game-tying three pointer in the closing seconds of overtime.
If you’re looking for reasons as to why Providence lost, don’t look at the stat sheet.
Owning the glass
The numbers paint the story of a game PC dominated. They obliterated Connecticut on the glass, 55-24, while grabbing an almost unbelievable 28 offensive rebounds. Kadeem Batts went for 20 points and nine rebounds, while Henton had his best effort in a month (15 points, 13 rebounds).
The problem wasn’t hitting the glass, but finishing at the rim. That Providence only outscored UConn by 11 second chance points (18-7), despite only allowing five offensive rebounds illustrates just how much trouble the Friars had converting inside.
Despite the ridiculous rebounding advantage, PC scored just four more points in the paint as well (34-30).
The free throw line certainly wasn’t where PC lost this one. The Friars shot a whopping 39 free throws and converted at 82%, while UConn made 19-27.
It’s not easy to lose a game in which you get 23 more offensive rebounds, hold a 13 point advantage at the free throw line and see your bench score 20 more points than your opponents (32-12), but that’s what happened at The Dunk on Thursday.
How, then, did UConn pull this one out?
When they count
Providence may have held the advantage at the line when it came to makes and attempts, but it was Connecticut who got them when they needed it most.
In the overtime session, Providence went 1-2 on four separate occasions. The most glaring misses came in the final 2:08. Shabazz Napier hit a three pointer to give UConn a 76-74 lead with just under 2:30 left when Kris Dunn got the line and made one of two. 76-75 UConn.
Following a Ryan Boatright turnover, Kadeem Batts was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound with a minute on the clock. He made one of two to tie it at 76.
On the ensuing possession, Boatright made a terrific play. He drove baseline, drawing Batts, and found freshman Omar Calhoun for a corner three which Calhoun made with confidence to give the Huskies a three point edge with 45 seconds to go.
After Napier and Batts both made a pair of three throws, Providence trailed by three with possession when Cotton was bumped along the sideline with 14 seconds left. He made one of two to bring PC within two, and after Napier made his first with 12 seconds left he missed the second setting up Cotton’s last second three that rimmed off.
A late UConn miss at the line kept hope alive, but the Friars may not have been in a position of desperation had they converted the freebies earlier.
Cooley noted afterwards that Providence didn’t do the little things to win, and Connecticut did. Actually, he said it much more bluntly, “They made their free throws late and we didn’t.”
The Huskies did big things beyond the three point arc, however, and their 18 point edge from downtown was the difference in this one.
Taking a page out of the old Friar handbook
Cotton is the only Friar shooting over 30% from three point range in Big East play, and when he’s struggling from deep as he did on this night (2-10) the Friars have virtually zero outside presence. They finished with just three 3 pointers on the night.
UConn, conversely, made 9-17 from deep.
Connecticut hadn’t won in Providence in seven years, and the Friars had, ironically, followed a similar formula in upsetting UConn that the Huskies used tonight.
Connecticut seemingly always had a massive advantage on the interior, but had been undone by long range shooting of the Friars (especially during the Tim Welsh era), yet on this night UConn turned the tables, getting a pair of huge threes from Boatright when it appeared as though PC was surging early in the second half (the first tied it at 36 and on the next possession he tied it at 39 with 17:00 left).
The end of regulation turned into a three point shooting contest with Cotton tying the game at 61 with 3:13 remaining, only to see Napier counter with a three of his own to push the lead to 64-61 on the next possession.
70 seconds later Cotton tied it again with a three pointer.
It was Calhoun who made the biggest of them all in the overtime session – a dagger PC never recovered from. UConn’s third option made the big three, while the Friars only have one player that they can feel comfortable with shooting beyond 20 feet right now.
At the end of the day, Providence’s inability to slow Big East offenses continues to be their undoing. For all of the offensive rebounding and free throwing shooting of the Friars, they allowed Connecticut to shoot 50% from the field and 53% from three.
“That team shot 50% against us,” said Cooley. “We have to improve that. Our field goal defense has to improve. You are not going to win many games with teams shooting 50% against you. It is that simple.”
Combined with an inconsistent offense of their own – one that managed just one field goal in overtime after Council fouled out – it was a formula for defeat on a night in which Providence dominated in several ways.
The Friar zone seemed to slow the hot-starting Huskies, but like in home losses to Pittsburgh and Syracuse, Connecticut was able to get good shots for their best shooters in critical situations.
Numbers aside, this game is about putting the ball in the basket and stopping your opponents from doing so. The hope in Providence just a month ago was that the offense would be improved upon Council’s return to the lineup and that with extra bodies the defense would be good enough.
That hasn’t been the case.
Providence is 2-10 since Council’s comeback, which takes us back to the benching of the senior. Both he and Henton didn’t start, but seeing as how Henton has struggled with his jump shot, a change of pace there seemed to make sense. The questions afterwards surrounded Council.
Cooley on the decision: “That’s just a coach’s decision. We’ve lost a couple of games, and as a coach you’ve got to try to change the pace of what you do to get people’s attention. Not just the guys that are playing, but our program. Guys are going to be held accountable. If I don’t feel you are doing what I feel our program needs to grow, then take a seat and watch a little bit.”
For all of the statistical abnormalities and questions surrounding the starting lineup, the head coach saw positives, “That is the hardest we have played in probably a month. I thought we played with a purpose today. I am really proud of our guys’ effort. I thought our effort was big time today. They made some timely shots. Their guards are really good, and their role players played good. Kevin (Ollie) has done a good job with that group.”
Email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Pictures by Kevin Reilly