Up-and-Coming Friars Another Test for Terps

Although many preseason prognosticators were not particularly high on Providence in the Big East, those paying close attention saw this was probably the Friars' most talented team in years. The last time Providence made the NCAA tournament was back in 2004, and this squad, if it remains healthy and intact, could very well make a return trip in 2013-14.

Although many preseason prognosticators were not particularly high on Providence in the Big East, those paying close attention saw this was probably the Friars' most talented team in years. The last time Providence made the NCAA tournament was back in 2004, and this squad, if it remains healthy and intact, could very well make a return trip in 2013-14.

Providence, which takes on Maryland tonight at 10 p.m., is currently sitting at 6-0 after knocking off La Salle, 71-63, during the second round of the Paradise Jam tournament at the University of the Virgin Islands. La Salle actually charged out to a 10-0 lead yesterday, but Providence's defense, switching from a zone to a man-to-man, buckled down and ignited a run that allowed the Friars to take a 30-26 halftime lead. La Salle drew to within 59-58 with less than four minutes remaining in the game, but Providence put together one last push to stave its foe off.

Sophomore forward Tyler Harris (6-9, 215) led the way with 22 points, 19 of which he scored after halftime, and nine rebounds. Senior forward Kadeem Batts (6-9, 245) chipped in 18. Providence had some trouble connecting from the field (37.7 percent shooting) and defending La Salle (45 percent shooting), but the Friars were 5-of-12 from 3-point land and 20-of-21 from the free-throw line, which made up the difference.

Two nights prior, the Friars defeated Vanderbilt, 67-60, during the tournament's first round. Providence also has wins over a Vermont squad that put up 90 points on Duke and a Boston College team that figures to be a pesky foe in the ACC.

Despite losing the Big East's all-time assist leader in point guard Vincent Council, many around the Friars' program were confident going into 2013-14 given the returning talent, not to mention the newcomers coming in.

The man tasked with replacing Council, sophomore Kris Dunn (6-3, 197), missed the first three games with a shoulder injury, forcing the team's top scoring threat, senior two-guard Bryce Cotton (6-1, 165), into the starting point guard role (Maryland can certainly relate to that). Cotton, though, is used to handling the ball as he replaced an injured Council at the beginning of last year. This season, he's averaging almost six assists per outing and has a 34-to-15 assist-to-turnover ratio.

But against La Salle, Cotton only had two assists and one turnover as he moved into his more natural two-guard spot for parts of the game. And, really, that's where he's most effective, his 3-for-15 shooting night yesterday notwithstanding. Cotton hasn't caught fire yet -- he's shooting 38 percent from the field and just 24 percent from downtown -- but when he's feeling it he can pile up points in a hurry. On top of that, Cotton is money from the charity stripe, hitting 91 percent of his attempts.

Defensively, Cotton has eight steals this year and is known as a steady, disruptive presence. He had two swipes against La Salle and proved to be a pest in the man-to-man.

Though Dunn hasn't started a game yet, he's getting plenty of minutes off the bench. Yesterday he didn't score a point, but he did dish out six assists, although his four turnovers are a concern. Not much of a scoring threat (4.3 points per game), Dunn's role is to steady Providence's flex offense, set up shooters like Cotton and play lockdown defense. In three games he has 19 dimes and six steals, but he also has 10 turnovers after last night's half-dozen.

Also manning the backcourt is sophomore Josh Fortune (6-5, 205), who handled the ball for a bit with Dunn out. Through six games he has 12 assists and six turnovers, while averaging 6.7 points per game. Against La Salle, Fortune was an efficient 3-of-4 from the field (seven points), handed out three helpers and had just one turnover.

In the frontcourt, transfer Tyler Harris has thrived in the absence of supremely talented freshman point-forward Brandon Austin (6-6, 185), who, along with classmate Rodney Bullock (6-7, 215), were suspended for "not upholding their responsibilities as student athletes." (Both Bullock and Austin are in St. Thomas, but have not been activated … yet). Regardless if those two freshmen are eligible, Harris hasn't given Friars coach Ed Cooley any reason to play them. The sophomore is the team's fourth leading scorer at 13.3 points per game and is shooting 46 percent from the field.

Moreover, he's connecting on 91 percent of his free throws, averaging 5.5 rebounds per and has seven steals. His 19-point second-half surge, including 9-of-9 from the free-throw line, last night allowed Providence to escape with a victory against La Salle.

Fellow forward LaDontae Henton (6-6, 215) is the team's top 3-point marksman, connecting on 10-of-19 for the year. He is averaging 14.5 points per game and is the most efficient scorer among the starters (49.2 percent from the field). Henton, though, can do more than just fill it up. He's the team's leading rebounder at 8.2 per game and also has a team-high 11 steals. Against La Salle he had a half-dozen points and boards, while adding in a block and a steal.

In the paint, senior Kadeem Batts (6-9, 245) is picking up 14.5 points and seven rebounds per outing. Like Henton, he's shooting 49 percent from the field, but he's also shown touch out to the 3-point line (3-of-5) and at the charity stripe (87 percent). As aforementioned, Batts had 18 points to go along with four boards against La Salle.

Junior center Carson Desrosiers (7-0, 250), another transfer, has been an effective rotational player, seeing plenty of action off the bench. In about 20 minutes per night, the 7-foot rim protector is averaging almost six rebounds and more than three blocks (21 total), while also chipping in 5.7 points. Desrosiers was an absolute monster against La Salle, and not because he scored seven crucial points in the paint. He had an eye-popping six blocks and six rebounds, assuring his foes had to think twice before penetrating.

Senior forward Lee Goldsbrough (6-9, 230) rounds out the rotation, but he's only seeing about six minutes a night. He has nine total rebounds, three points and two steals this season.

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