Friars Sweep Away The Rams

Providence College delivered a convincing knockout blow to the University of Rhode Island, 87-74, in the 121st renewal of the annual basketball war with the Rams. In doing so, PC improved to 8-1 on the season, the best start since 2004.

The question that seemed to be on everyone's lips at the Dunk in the aftermath of PC's dismantling of the Rams was, "Is this Friar team for real?" After recording seven wins against below average and so-so teams, it was difficult to get a true handle on this year's edition of the Friars. But Saturday was different. A bitter in-state rival that always comes to play against Providence. State-wide and beyond television. And for the first time this season, a packed, raucous Dunk filled with intensity and electricity. Many of the young Friars had never played in front of a crowd like this.

And the youngsters – as well as the veterans – responded. Freshmen Gerard Coleman and Kadeem Batts had big games and big plays, as did sophomores Vincent Council, Duke Mondy and Bilal Dixon and Bryce Cotton and Dre Evans also contributed. Surprisingly, it was the Rams – with four key seniors; Delroy James, Marquis Jones, Will Martell and Ben Eaves – who wilted under the big-game glare.

Yet, it was URI coach Jim Baron, who tossed in the youth and inexperience excuse in his post-game comments, when he said, "Our young players didn't react very well to this game. Our sophomore class just didn't perform. I'm very surprised by that. We didn't get much out of Akeem Richmond or Ryan Brooks." That much was true, although Daniel West played well and Nikola Malesevic had his moments. And of course, there was the obligatory "And we were missing Orion Outerbridge and Jamal Wilson. They would have been in there and taken the place of our younger players," comment.

Obviously Keno Davis had another take. "With our extremely young team, I wasn't quite sure what to expect and how they would respond with execution and some of the detail stuff with only a day, day and a half of preparation." Upon refection, they responded extremely well.

This day belonged to the surging Friars. PC jumped out to a 6-0 lead, a harbinger of what was to come, and even though URI fought back to claim a 22-21 lead behind the hot play of James and long range shooting of Jones, when James picked up his second foul, the Friars took advantage. Baskets by Coleman, Mondy and Batts, along with steady scoring by Brooks helped open a 38-26 lead. At that point, James returned and sparked a furious charge over the final four minutes that cut PC's lead at the half to 43-39.

As has been the case often so far this season, the Friars pounced in the second half. A steal by Brooks and a lyup by Coleman had them off and running. As Council repeatedly sliced through the Rhody defense, the lead ballooned to ten, at 54-44 by the first media timeout and peaked at 60-44 by the second media timeout. The closest that URI would get in the final twelve minutes was nine points, at 67-58, after a West three pointer with seven minutes left.

"It's very nice when you play a pressing team that you have enough confidence in him (Council) that you don't have to do a lot of game planning other than just to give him the ball," said Davis. "If he's not the quickest guy on the court, then he's going up against a pro."

Brooks continued to score at will, and Council was penetrating and dishing for easy buckets and hitting jump shots and threes himself. The lead peaked at 82-65 with a minute to play, and even six meaningless points by James and a three by Richmond barely cut into the lead as the Friars continued to knock down free throws.

For the game, PC outrebounded URI 42-37, led by Dixon's 12 boards, Brooks' 9 and Council's 7. The Friars shot 48% while holding URI to 39%, 33% in the second half. PC hit 26-34 free throws compared to URI's 9-14, but the free throw disparity was not a result of home court refereeing; rather, PC made a concerted effort to get to the line and drove repeatedly into the teeth of the URI defense, forcing fouls.

Marshon Brooks and Vincent Council were clearly the stars. Brooks scored 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks and played well the entire game. With an uncanny ability to drive, hang in the air and draw contact, Brooks hit 12-14 free throws. He put James into early foul trouble and also helped contain Delroy. In addition, in his senior season, he has emerged as a steadying force and a more intelligent decision-maker.

Council chipped in with 17 points, 10 assists and 7 boards while playing 37 minutes. The rapidly improving star has the ability to get past any defender, get into the paint and is also showing an improved jump shot. Marquis Jones has the reputation as an excellent defender, but he had no chance of stopping Council. PC outquicked URI all over the floor, causing Baron to comment, "This is the quickest PC team I've seen in my time at URI. I didn't anticipate they'd be that quick."

PC's big men also owned the paint. Bilal Dixon had 12 boards and 6 blocks and played a huge part in rendering Will Martell ineffective. Martell shot just 2-9 and missed some early close-in looks. Kadeem Batts scored 12 points, hit a foot on the three point line baseline jumper and played tough inside while Dixon was on the bench with foul trouble. And Gerard Coleman shot 7-10 on slashing moves to the basket and scored 15 points. The Friar youngsters were certainly not intimidated by the bright lights or big, boisterous crowd.

For Providence, which increased its lead in this series to 67-54, there is little time to savor this sweet win. Monday night the Friars will have to be ready for another in-state rival, Brown, who would like nothing more than to ruin PC's claim on the state championship. After that, its off to Chestnut Hill on Wednesday for Boston College and back home on Saturday against Alabama. No time to rest for the weary.

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