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Isaiah Jackson Emerges for Providence
- Updated: March 5, 2017
Yesterday Providence did the unthinkable, matching their Big East win total from a season ago. It was unthinkable as the Friars lost a pair of starters to the NBA and returned a core that had been relegated as role players prior to this year.
For nearly all of Ed Cooley’s tenure at Providence, and much of it at Fairfield, he had relied heavily on his top two players.
Cooley made a point of keeping the ball in the electrifying Kris Dunn’s hands as often as possible the past two seasons, while Ben Bentil, LaDontae Henton, and Bryce Cotton all hoisted over 500 shots the past three years.
That’s what made this season so intriguing heading in. We hadn’t seen Kyron Cartwright running the show full time, what a bulked-up Jalen Lindsey might look like, or how Rodney Bullock would handle being an offensive focal point. We really hadn’t seen an offense with interchangeable parts.
There was also a cast of newcomers on campus that most knew nothing about.
The hope in October was that Emmitt Holt and Isaiah Jackson (both transfers) would contribute immediately due to their experience at this level. Holt held up his end of the bargain, finishing the regular season second on the team in scoring, and shooting over 50% from the field and 35% from deep.
Jackson? Well, in early February the season looked like it was getting away from him.
The Florida native averaged nearly nine points and four rebounds against good competition while a true freshman at George Mason. He transferred to Providence after one year and was expected to do a little bit of everything for a Friar club searching for an identity (Cooley spoke throughout much of this season about finding this team’s identity).
Prior to February, Jackson scored in double figures just three times — in a blowout loss at Xavier (17), at Villanova (12), and in the debacle at DePaul (12).
An overtime loss at Seton Hall dropped PC to 4-8 in conference play, and Jackson missed awkwardly on two layup attempts.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the lightbulb went off, and, not coincidentally, so did Providence.
During Providence’s current six-game winning streak (which started after the Seton Hall loss) no player on this team has raised his play like the 6’6 sophomore. Initially, he gave Cooley a much-needed consistent hand off the bench during this stretch, but on Saturday against St. John’s he was simply the best player on the floor.
When Bullock was sent to the bench with his fourth foul early in the second half, Jackson went to work. He scored 14 of his season-high 18 points in the final 20 minutes by punishing smaller St. John’s defenders in the paint.
Cooley’s game plan coming in was to slow down a Johnnies team that beat his Friars in a track meet earlier in the season by punishing them inside, and on Saturday no one bullied Chris Mullin’s group more than Jackson.
No one on this roster finishes better from 8-10 feet, and ever since the Seton Hall game he’s driving to the rim with a purpose. In 29 minutes yesterday afternoon Jackson shot 8-10 from the field, grabbed seven rebounds, had three assists, and knocked down one of two 3-point attempts.
Jackson played with a veteran’s poise yesterday — putting a shoulder into defenders in the post, throwing an up fake at the rim before scoring, dropping off pretty backdoor bounce passes, and connecting on a corner 3-pointer in rhythm.
During the six-game winning streak Jackson is averaging just under 11 points per game, but more significantly, his consistency has lengthened the rotation and allowed Providence to win games even when its top two scorers are in foul trouble or struggling to score.
It took nearly the entire season, but the depth that so many hoped would allow Providence to stay competitive after the departures of Dunn and Bentil arrived just in time. Suddenly, the Friars have 20 wins yet again and are, at the very least, knocking on the door of the NCAA Tournament.