Friar Basketball

Frustrating Setting in at Friartown

SJU Pregame Providence College Athletics

With over ten seconds remaining in Providence’s 92-81 home loss to St. John’s Ed Cooley left his team’s sideline to shake hands with Mike Anderson. With about five seconds still on the clock Cooley cut across the court and headed straight to his team’s locker room. Like the rest of us, he wasn’t interested in being a part of this one any longer. 

You could say frustration has set in at Friartown, but it feels a bit more like exasperation at this point, “It’s like the tale of two games,” said Cooley of his team’s two most recent losses, “where we haven’t lost many games when we’ve given up 60 points, and we haven’t lost many games where we’ve scored 80 plus points.”

While the Friar offense no-showed in Wednesday’s 60-43 loss to Seton Hall, on Saturday the defense had no answers for the Johnnies. They gave up runs of 19-0 in the first half, and 16-3 in the second. 

Where have you gone, Chris Mullin? 

Anderson is now 3-1 against the Friars dating back to PC’s no show versus his Arkansas club in the 2019 NIT. Anderson was fired shortly thereafter, but in less than two years he has St. John’s on the rise. The Red Storm have won six games in a row and seven of eight behind a terrific freshman guard (Posh Alexander) and a high-scoring sophomore (Julian Champagnie). The duo combined for 45 points on Saturday, raining in threes and getting to the rim at will. 

Things aren’t so rosy in Friartown. Since the calendar turned to 2021, Providence is 2-7 and their defense (long a Cooley trademark) has seemingly too many holes to fix. 

Let’s not complicate Providence’s defensive shortcomings. They haven’t stopped dribble penetration nor have they had a defensive presence at the basket, “We’re having a tough time with resistance on the ball and at the rim,” Cooley noted after seeing St. John’s shoot nearly 60% against his team. “The common denominator in a lot of games we’re losing is our inability to defend.”

Unprompted, Cooley offered a mini-state of the program in his opening remarks following yesterday’s loss, “So, here’s where we are as a program. Our program is great. Our program is in good shape. We’re having a rough year.” He later continued, “I feel frustration around everything. From our players, our managers, our coaches, myself, I’m pretty sure our fans.”

Frustration has certainly set in. Yesterday, there may have also been a bit of envy. St. John’s was supposed to be rebuilding this year, and that certainly looked to be the case when they started 1-5 in Big East play. They have won seven of their last eight games, however, with the only loss during that stretch coming by two points versus Marquette. Anderson has his team defending tenaciously and in attack mode on offense. 

We have been down this road with Cooley before, and with the exception of the 2018-19 season, he has figured it out every year since 2013. It’s just hard to imagine how this group will make a dramatic enough defensive resurgence to salvage this season. 

The “state of the program” talk typically comes when teams are at their lowest, but for Cooley and everyone involved with his program, this season has long been one that had to have been targeted as an important one. That has to be adding to the frustration. 

A program like Providence simply has to capitalize on the highly-regarded talent they landed in these junior and senior classes. Yes, they were cheated out of that chance last March, but now this season is starting to look like a significant missed opportunity. 

These are frustrating times, indeed.

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