Friar Basketball

Providence vs. BC from 2001


Prior to the 2000-01 season no one thought a March contest between Providence and Boston College would be for first place in the league. Yet, that’s where things stood as Boston College was 10-3 in league play, and PC 10-4, in the final home game for seniors Erron Maxey and Karim Shabazz.

Troy Bell exploded as a sophomore for the Eagles, who went on to win the Big East regular season title and conference tournament, before ending the season ranked 7th in the country. They were utterly dominant in the Big East Tournament, taking out Villanova (93-79) in the quarterfinals, crushing Seton Hall (75-48) in the semis, and easily dispatching an upstart Pittsburgh club in the final (79-57).

Bell split Big East Player of the Year with Notre Dame’s Troy Murphy before the Eagles were upset by Brian Scalabrine and USC in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. BC finished the season 27-5 overall, after spending the three previous seasons in last place in the Big East.

How surprising was BC’s rise to the top of the league? They finished a combined 6-28 in league play the two previous seasons, and added only one player to their 2000-01 squad in unheralded (but terrific) freshman Ryan Sidney.

Providence was coming off of a disaster of its own. The Friars finished 11-19 overall in 2000 and lost more than half of their roster to transfers or players being expelled from an ugly off-campus assault involving fellow PC students.

What Providence did return was John Linehan, the best defensive guard in the country. Linehan missed virtually all of the prior season to a hernia which later led to surgery. He returned with a reworked jump shot that saw him shoot over 40% from 3-point range.

The Friars, one of the worst outside shooting teams in the country the year prior, saw four players connect on over 40% from deep, including a pair of freshman who finished over 45% in 6’9 Maris Laksa and combo guard Sheiku Kabba.

PC shot 40% from three as a team, good for ninth in the country. With Linehan (who would eventually become the NCAA’s all-time leader in career steals) disrupting opponent’s game plans, PC finished 23rd in the country in steals.

2001 marked the first time Providence returned to the NCAA Tournament and the AP polls in four years.

All you have to do is listen to the crowd in this one to realize this was the biggest game in Providence since the Friars made the Elite Eight in 1997.

What stands out in looking back:

  • While Linehan and Bell were the headliners, it was the role players who made the difference in this one. PC controlled the first 25 minutes of the game until Boston College sophomore center Uka Abgai went to work inside. Agbai, a rugged, yet undersized center used his wide body to combat the length of the 7’2 Shabazz and lead a BC surge in the second.
  • Sidney’s athleticism shows up throughout the second half. For those didn’t see him play, the 6’2 Sidney came to BC from Michigan. He was not recruited by the likes of Michigan or Michigan State, but turned into one of the best players in the Big East thanks to his aggression and physical force. Sidney and Bell marked the beginning of Al Skinner’s staff identifying terrific talent that had otherwise been overlooked — Bell, Sidney, Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, Sean Williams, and the list goes on. The Eagles also featured versatile, tough wings in Kenny Harley, Kenny Walls, and Xavier Singletary — the types of players Cooley continues to target to this day.
  • Laksa hit a number of big shots. He seemed primed for a really good career at PC, but was likely at his best during his freshman season. Laksa and Swedish freshman Chris Anrin were keys in Providence turning around its fortunes from beyond the arc. PC also got big lifts in this game from Kabba and freshman center Marcus Douthit, who had three loud blocks. At one point, head coach Tim Welsh played all four freshman together — telling in such a critical game. It was the biggest game of Welsh’s career to that point.
  • The ending is gut-wrenching for Friar fans. You can actually hear the collective air leave the Civic Center when Rome Augustin’s shot rims out at the buzzer.

You can watch the full game at FriarTV:

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