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- Rivals: PC’s 2017 Class 34th Nationally
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New Era Kicks off with Early Statements from Cooley
If there are three things new Providence coach Ed Cooley has stressed above anything else since taking over the program in March it has been discipline, hard work, and defense. It was only the first exhibition game, but the importance of each principle was certainly felt in Providence’s 64-51 victory over Assumption.
Prior to the game, it was announced that the NCAA deemed freshman point guard Kiwi Gardner academically ineligible – a ruling Providence is appealing – but perhaps more significant to the Friars’ hopes this season was the absence of Kadeem Batts. The sophomore power forward looked like he could be the breakout performer for the Friars, but he was out due to “disciplinary reasons” according to both Kevin McNamara and John Rooke prior to the game.
How long Batts could be out for is unclear at this time, but losing him and Gardner makes an already shallow roster frighteningly thin. Without Batts for an extended period, this team could really struggle to score and rebound.
While Batts and two-year starter Bilal Dixon were expected to carry the load for a frontcourt low on experience, neither started in the exhibition opener on Tuesday night.
Cooley’s frontcourt consisted of a pair of freshman: LaDontae Henton and Brice Kofane, as well as Gerard Coleman, who slid over to the three spot with Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton in the backcourt.
And when the Friar head coach went to the bench early it was Ron Giplaye, not Dixon, who was inserted into the game first.
Then it was Lee Goldsbrough.
Then it was walk-on Chris Carter.
Then it was a few more minutes.
Was Dixon going to play at all?
Finally, in came Dixon, and what resulted was an inspired effort from the junior center.
Yesterday, I noted that Dixon’s motor was going to be one of the five things to watch in the exhibition opener. Visibly frustrated at times a season ago, he came into the game with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half and the Friars surprisingly trailing by six. He responded by swatting a shot out of bounds, followed by him urging his opponents to up their defensive intensity.
That’s just what he did the rest of the way.
Dixon played with great energy, scoring 13 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and being credited for five blocks – a number that felt even higher in person – in an effort that turned the tide for a Providence team that had scored a mere two field goals in the game’s first 10 minutes.
Cooley made a statement and Dixon responded.
A final statement came early in the second half. With Providence leading 30-23 at halftime, they came out of the locker room and let up an uncontested shot 14 seconds in.
Cooley called timeout and called on Bryce Cotton, Lee Goldsbrough, and a trio of walk-ons – Carter, Ted Bancroft and Mike Murray – to set a different defensive tone.
The move paid dividends, as the group upped the defensive intensity, causing deflections, hitting the deck, and forcing a shot clock violation – getting a rise out of the Alumni Hall crowd and serving notice to their onlooking teammates.
The group stayed on the court for three minutes and continued to get after it on the defensive end before Cooley went back to his veterans after a timeout.
You don’t defend for Ed Cooley, then you don’t play – another message from the head coach.
While Cooley was a virtual quote machine in the days between his hiring and his first exhibition game, his actions on Tuesday night sent louder messages to his players and the fanbase about what he expects from his team.
No more talking, no more shortcuts, no more shootouts. It’s officially time for Providence to get back to work.
- Cotton has put a lot of time in on his game since last season and the results were on the court Tuesday. The sophomore switched between both guard spots, playing with poise on the offensive end and aggression defensively. His jump shot looks far improved (connecting on 3-6 from beyond the arc, rimming out two of his misses) and he finished with a beautiful left handed scoop shot on the break. Perhaps most significantly, his handle looks tighter, a flaw that I was quick to point out on occasions in the past. Very impressive night for the Arizona native.
- Council forced a few passes early, but once he started looking for his shot more the Friars pulled away. It will be a tough balancing act for the junior point guard this year. He’s one of the most talented passers in the Big East, but will have to balance that with this team’s glaring need for scoring – a problem that was on display throughout Tuesday night.
- LaDontae Henton has the makings of a really nice piece for the Friars. Labeled a 3/4 hybrid when he signed with PC last spring, Henton’s jump shot is far better than advertised and he finished in a variety of ways last night, including through contact and off a mid-range jump shot.
- Brice Kofane played with good energy in the first few minutes, but seemed to fade a bit afterwards. He has the makings of a versatile defender, one known for shot blocking, but he also played at the top of PC’s press at times last night.
- Gerard Coleman couldn’t get it going offensively. Coleman seemed to play a little quicker than he had to towards the end of last season and Cooley said it best at one point in the second half, “Gerard, relax.”
- Both Ron Giplaye and Lee Goldsbrough were equally quiet on the evening. Between the two sophomore power forwards and the redshirt Kofane, neither was able to separate himself on a night when Assumption out-rebounded Providence 38-33.