Friar Basketball

Friars Fight, Fall Short versus Syracuse

January 5, 2012

Providence fans had gotten all too used to it.  A bigger, more talented opponent would hit them hard once and the Friars might get up.  If the second swing wasn’t a knockout blow, then the third typically did the trick.

When Ed Cooley took over the reigns of the downtrodden program nine months ago no one expected miracles in his first year, especially considering All American scorer Marshon Brooks had graduated, leaving Providence with a roster lacking size, depth, shooting and experience – four things #1 Syracuse has in abundance.

While the makeup of the Providence offense is different without Brooks, and the manner in which they attack on the offensive end has certainly changed, the most significant transformation under Cooley has been in the Friars’ mental approach to the game.

In recent seasons this was an emotionally brittle team.  A blowout loss like the one they had in the Big East opener against St. John’s might have sent them into a tailspin.  A horrible offensive game like they produced versus Georgetown may have stripped them of their confidence.  Syracuse continually making back breaking shots might have broken them.

Not on this night.

Yes, Providence eventually fell by 14 to the top team in the country, but with every occasion in which it looked as though Syracuse would pull away, Providence showed the grit that their coach vowed to bring with him when he took the job.

Providence lost to a more talented and deeper Syracuse team on Wednesday night, but they were far from the emotionally fragile group they had been the past two seasons – not with the powerful Cooley willing his team and his crowd back into the game at times when both might have checked out in the past.

Providence came out of the locker room with an edge, which was apparent when they played the Orange to a virtual standstill in the opening half (36-34 heading to the locker room).

After a back and forth first half, it looked as though Syracuse might pull away in the final five minutes.  The Orange grabbed the momentum and led 33-28 with just over three minutes to play, but the Friars dug in and held Syracuse to a single field goal in the final three minutes – a three point make by Brandon Triche with 1:30 to play that gave Syracuse a 36-34 lead.

Syracuse took their next swing early in the second half, as a 12-1 run pushed a 40-38 lead to 52-39 advantage with 15 minutes to go.  When Triche hit his third three pointer of the second half just five minutes in, he gave Syracuse a seemingly insurmountable 55-41 edge against a PC team that managed a mere 40 points against Georgetown on Saturday.

Providence dragged themselves off of the canvas once more, staying within shouting distance over the next five minutes until a LaDontae Henton three pointer capped a spurt that pulled PC to within seven with 9:37 remaining.

After Henton followed by missing a pair of free throws that would have brought the Friars to within five with nine minutes to play, Syracuse responded as great teams do, by converting a layup off of the miss, getting a stop, and then working the shot clock until James Southerland hit his only field goal of the game (unless you count the ridiculous windmill he threw down in the final seconds with a full shot clock), a top of the key three pointer to quickly push the lead back to 12 with eight minutes left.

Each time the energy level in the arena began to rise, Syracuse responded.  The run was just another blow to the Friars, and another opportunity for Providence to get back up.

Which they did.

Over the next minute and a half PC ripped off a 7-2 run highlighted by a Bryce Cotton three, and when Gerard Coleman converted a layup two possessions later it was suddenly a 70-64 game with five minutes to play.

The quick striking Orange did what they do best on the next two possessions when sophomore Dion Waiters hit a difficult shot in the lane and canned a corner three and just as quickly it was an 11 point game again.

So many different players made so many big plays for the Orange.

Gerard Coleman countered with an open court dunk to bring Providence to within nine, but Syracuse countered with a 12-7 run to close it out.

Still, on a night in which Syracuse came at Providence in waves the Friars continued to fight back.

This Friar outfit will be judged as much on fight, as wins and losses this year, and there were a lot of positive signs in that regard on Wednesday night.

A team that had been beaten up on the boards at times during the out of conference schedule unexpectedly outrebounded a huge Syracuse frontcourt.

Five days removed from being bludgeoned for a horrible shooting night, Coleman responded in a big way, not only by converting all seven of his free throw attempts, but by understanding that if this team is going to compete they will need him to consistently show aggression and get to the free throw line.  He was in attack mode all night, with 17 points, six rebounds, seven free throw attempts, and only one turnover in 39 minutes – showing no ill effects from a difficult shooting night, nor a lack of confidence.

Speaking of free throw attempts, Providence slashed and attacked the Syracuse zone, taking 28 free throws (versus 16 for Syracuse).  They sent Fab Melo to the bench with four fouls mid-way through the second half and fouled out starting power forward Rakeem Christmas with nine minutes to play.

After looking sluggish at times in his return from suspension, Kadeem Batts showed flashed of being the offensive player many had projected him to be in the preseason, hitting 8-10 from the free throw line, canning a pair of face up jumpers, and scoring on a left handed drive.

Following the worst shooting night in Providence history, Cooley’s gang was a miss shy of shooting 50% for the game, while connecting on 46% from three and 75% on their free throw attempts.

The head coach did more than bring energy to this one.  While he had to have been disappointed with allowing Syracuse to shoot an astounding 61% from the field, his offensive game plan was sound.  Providence would not be able to run with Syracuse, so the Friars milked the shot clock in the halfcourt set, but pushed the pace when open court opportunities presented themselves.

It wasn’t a win like the last time the #1 team in the country visited the Dunkin Donuts Center, but it was a markedly different feel in Providence.  The Friars took body blows all night, but kept fighting until the final bell.