Friar Basketball

Lessons Learned from 2015

Jalen vs Dayton

When Providence takes to the court Friday to challenge Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament it will mark the fifth season in a row in which the Friars have reached the Big Dance — a school record.

The road ahead is a difficult one. Texas A&M’s frontcourt brings NBA size, and the winner has the unenviable task of (most likely) taking on North Carolina in Charlotte in the second round. That’s the life of a 10 seed in March.

With roughly 24 hours until Ed Cooley and his bunch return to the Tournament, I find myself looking back to the 2015.

Providence was seeded 6th, their highest seeding under Cooley, thanks to the breakout year of Kris Dunn, Big East leading scorer LaDontae Henton, the late-season development of Ben Bentil, and length across the board (including a pair of seven footers in Carson Desrosiers and Paschal Chukwu in the middle).

In what some considered a rebuilding year prior to the season, the Friars rolled to a 22 win campaign.

They awaited the winner of a play-in game between Dayton and Boise State, and neither team instilled fear after watching them go head-to-head. An undersized Dayton bunch closed on a 10-2 run for a one point victory.

The Dayton/Boise game was played in Dayton, marking the first time a team had homecourt in the NCAA Tournament in nearly 30 years.

Dayton was a force at home. The win over Boise marked their 22nd straight in their building.

The Friars and Flyers were to meet 80 miles from Dayton’s campus in Columbus, OH, but I still couldn’t muster up much fear. Providence had the most talented player in the game in Dunn, probably the second most with Henton, and far more length.

Sure, the game was to be played in Ohio, but in Columbus, not Dayton, and Boise State would have taken Dayton out on its home floor had they not wilted late. PC was no Boise.

Providence and Dayton didn’t tip until nearly 11pm that Friday, and the Friars were the first team out of the locker room. As soon as they stepped foot on the floor, I knew PC was in trouble.

The building exploded with boos that were probably louder than anything Providence heard on the road that year. Maybe you had to be in the building to truly feel it, but it was first shocking, then jarring in what was supposed to be a neutral setting.

The game unfolded miserably. PC scored five points in the first nine minutes, Dunn went to the bench after picking up both a personal foul and a technical for a high elbow, and Dayton pulled away in the second half as the Ohioans roared on with approval.

I keep coming back to that game this week. The apparent connection would be potentially taking on North Carolina in their home state (for the second time in three years), but again, that is oftentimes the life of a 10 seed.

I come back to 2015 as I think about the current senior class and how the NCAA Tournament so often shapes a legacy.

That night in Columbus was LaDontae Henton’s last in a Providence uniform, and for a long time it changed the narrative about his great career.

Henton was Cooley’s first recruit at Providence and epitomized everything we wanted after Cooley took over.

From the start, Henton belonged on a Big East court. He was tough, clutch and unflappable. He scored more points than any freshman in school history, buried what was essentially a game-winning jump shot in the 2014 Big East Tournament Championship, and graduated as one of only two Friars to score 2,000 points while grabbing 1,000 rebounds.

As a senior, Henton was 1st Team All Big East and AP Honorable Mention All American.

A month after Cooley was hired at Providence, Henton committed to him. He’d initially signed with Dayton (of all places), but re-opened his recruitment after a coaching change in the spring and the rest was history.

There isn’t a player Cooley has brought to Providence that I respect more than Henton.

That’s what makes it so hard to acknowledge that a lasting part of his legacy was his final game in black and white — the loss to Dayton.

Henton finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, but struggled through a 7-26 night, missing shots that he routinely made since his freshman year. The entire team played tight from the start, and with Dunn benched with foul trouble early, Henton took it upon himself to try to pull them out of a rut that ultimately lasted the entire game.

It was almost unfair to watch Henton struggle on this stage, after he’d played such a significant role in PC getting back to it — after he’d made so many critical plays in his four years.

This was the player who as a freshman won a Big East game at the buzzer, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the closing minutes to finish off Andre Drummond and UConn. The man who clinched the 2014 Big East Championship, and had nights of 38 points vs. Notre Dame, 25 against Miami, 24 vs. Florida State, 38 more on Creighton, and closed out the conference schedule by scoring 20+ in seven of nine games as a senior.

As time passed, it feels as though more Friar fans remember him for his role in turning the program around, but in the immediate aftermath of the Dayton loss the narrative in some corners was that Henton was a good, not great, player. It was as if the 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, that being the school’s second all-time leading scorer and fifth in rebounds came with some sort of asterisk.

That’s what is at stake for Providence’s current crop of seniors.

This senior class began to rewrite its history in last week’s Big East Tournament run.

PC’s veterans brought a sense of urgency to Madison Square Garden last week. They knew they were on the bubble before they knocked off Creighton in overtime, then it seemed like whatever weighed them down at times this year had been lifted. They were freer in their semifinal win over Xavier, inspired in the championship against Villanova.

Last week was thrilling, and Providence fans will long remember Kyron Cartwright spinning and tossing in impossibly clutch shots or Rodney Bullock’s sudden emergence as a late game rim protector.

But the NCAA Tournament is where the lasting images are made. It’s where Bryce Cotton became a Friar legend, even in defeat, and where Henton’s legacy changed to some degree.

Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey were freshmen in 2015. Lindsey was second on the team in scoring that night after knocking down four 3-pointers, while Cartwright filled in ably in the first half as Dunn sat early. Bullock was sidelined with a season-ending injury.

Now it’s time for them to write their final chapter — the last chapter of a book that has seen buzzer beating Tournament wins, the rise or Dunn, a handful of top five victories, and the past two seasons in which they led this program back to the Big Dance when few thought they could.


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  2. Irish Spectre

    March 15, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    …a rut, indeed. Providence never got going that night, flat as a pancake the entire game. It’s hard to believe that Henton even had 18; my recollection was all kinds of standing around on offense, everyone pretty much just watching and waiting for Dunn (when he wasn’t sitting) to start churning out magic. The minimum requirement is the team’s compete level, and they didn’t have even that, which is what made for the most pain.

    Whatever happens tomorrow, with three starting veterans, compete should not be an issue. I’m hoping they do what they do on d, which is to grind, and shoot by multiple parties maybe a little better than normal, because rebounding will be a beast, and it’d be nice to have to do it a little less.

    Go Friars.

  3. RandalL Shanke

    March 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    The Zebras were awful in that game. Dunn got into immediate foul trouble. That game was very fishy. Same with the UNC game. Foul calls in the last 4-5 seconds are very rare.

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