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Bryce Cotton cemented himself as an All Big East performer with yet another huge night on Saturday, this time scoring 19 of Providence’s 36 second half points to lead the Friars to a 62-59 victory. Cotton caught fire from deep in the second half, making 4-8 from long range.
Once again, it wasn’t that Cotton hit three pointers, but when he did so that made the difference. There was the bomb that snapped a 6-0 St. John’s run with just under eight minutes to go that tied it at 47.
Under a minute later he canned another to make it 50-49 PC.
His fourth 3 of the half came with just over four minutes to play. That one turned a two point deficit into a two point Friar lead, as he was fouled on the shot and made the free throw that followed.
Of his four 3s, the first snapped a tie, the second tied it back up and the next two turned a deficit into a lead.
For good measure Cotton then hit a difficult pull-up with under three minutes remaining to push the lead to four at 59-55.
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As spectacular as Cotton was in the second half, Kris Dunn was special in many ways in the first. The freshman, who has found a niche as a defensive ace, looked more assertive offensively from the start.
How’s this for a first half stat line: 4 points, 4 assist and 9 rebounds? Looking back at the tape, Dunn could have had 7-8 assists in the opening stanza, as his teammates botched two layups and he found a pair of others for wide open three pointers.
As it is, the tape will show a terrific 3/4 court pass to Kadeem Batts for a layup and a pretty drop-off to LaDontae Henton for a slam.
When asked after the game how this group is such a good rebounding team despite being undersized, Ed Cooley said he thinks their speed has been underrated all season. They may not jump over teams for rebounds, but they are getting there first – and no one did that better early than Dunn, who finished with 12 boards and might have had even more had he not battled through foul trouble in the second half.
Credit the freshman for being intelligent enough to find a way to contribute to this team’s turnaround without scoring. His defense, and now his help on the glass have both been big.
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I watched JaKarr Sampson play 7-8 times with Brewster Academy last season and on a handful of occasions this year at St. John’s, and he certainly seemed to play with more of a chip on his shoulder against Providence on Saturday night (staring down Dunn after a dunk, for example).
Cooley noted early in his press conference that he spent a lot of time recruiting Sampson, who had a career-high 22 points, and Chris Obekpa last season and there were moments last night when the mind wandered and thought of how the conversation might have gone between Sampson and Cooley when Sampson chose St. John’s while home on spring break. Cooley went all-in for Sampson, and it was easy to see why last night. He was terrific throughout.
The last time I saw Sampson play for Brewster was at the National Prep Championship in New Haven – a game in which Cooley was in attendance for, and things looked promising for the Friars. Within a week Sampson was St. John’s bound.
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We’ll have more on this later in the week, but Steve Lavin is giving Cooley the nod for Big East Coach of the Year in large part because he was able to regroup through both early injuries, but also because PC bounced back from the 2-7 start in conference play.
Providence has now won six of seven in the Big East and stands at 8-8 in the conference. No one saw that coming a month ago.