Friars Push Orange in Loss

While many pundits felt Providence would get run out of the Carrier Dome Tuesday evening, the Friars had no such plans and battled #5 Syracuse to the wire in an 81-74 loss. Some poor Friar free throw shooting and too many three point attempts combined with some good execution late by the Orange prevented the upset.

Providence had a shot to win this one, as improbable as it may have seemed going in. Starting two freshmen and two sophomores in their first Big East game of the year on road looked like too tall an order against number 5 ranked Syracuse. Still, the Friars did all they could to fight for the upset until the very end. That is cold comfort if a team is on a long losing streak like last year's Friars, but this season is a different story. Even with the loss to Syracuse, the Friars have an 11-3 record and a RealTimeRPI.com rating of 48. That gives them a shot to still make a lot of noise this season in the best conference in America.

Providence committed only 10 turnovers in this game. They stayed within 2 rebounds of Syracuse on the glass despite center Rick Jackson pulling down 17 himself. Marshon Brooks was as productive as he was against any non-conference foe, scoring 27 points and pulling down 6 rebounds with only two turnovers. However, it would take more than that from his supporting cast to win the game as senior Kris Joseph and Syracuse made seven first half 3 point attempts in the first half which gave them a 10 point cushion at halftime.

From a Providence perspective, this game was lost largely at the free throw line. While it is true that the Friars took too many ill advised 3's against the Syracuse zone and shot poorly from the arc (27%), Providence ultimately only made one less than the Orange did with 8. Moreover, Providence connected on 25 field goals overall, the same number as Syracuse did despite only shooting 40% for the game. It was the 16-24 free throw shooting that really did Providence in. A free throw percentage of 66.7% for the game simply will not get it done against excellent competition, no matter the effort. Vincent Council, who worked on his form in the off season and hit 14 straight foul shots at one point this year, really struggled from the stripe. The sophomore was 1-6 from the line and it really cost the Friars as Council was the most effective Providence player at drawing fouls. Syracuse was a respectable 22-30 from the foul line.

Syracuse is a tough matchup for Providence, and when the Friars miss free throws and their shooting guards go 2-13 from the three point line, the odds for an upset are slim, especially against an undefeated Syracuse team in the Carrier Dome. Despite that, the Orange were clearly concerned about the Friars speed and quick strike ability. It was obvious down the stretch that Jim Boeheim had his team playing some ‘stall ball', as a quickened pace late seemed to finally ignite Gerard Coleman (12pts) and the rest of the Friars as a sixteen point lead was cut down to 4 over most the of the last five minutes.

In the end, Syracuse made 6-8 free throws down the stretch, and Providence could get no closer than 4 points, with a Marshon Brooks missed a key three point shot at the two minute mark being the most painful for Friar fans that would have cut the lead to one. Scoop Jardine really carried the Orange in the second half and put up 21 points to compliment Joseph's handiwork.

Perhaps overlooked but nonetheless noteworthy was the work of Bilal Dixon in the Syracuse game. Playing against one of the best centers in the Big East in Rick Jackson, Dixon more than held his own with 11 points, 9 rebounds, an assist, and one steal. The near double double is a vast improvement for Dixon from last year's late February matchup with Jackson when he was abused for 28 points while Dixon himself only pulled down 3 rebounds and scored only 2 points. A much stronger Dixon this year more than held his own against the aggressive Jackson, and that bodes well for the rest of the Big East season.

Providence has no time to either dwell on the loss to Syracuse or pat themselves on the back for a moral victory at the Dome. They have their first Big East home game versus St. John's on Saturday, and if they ultimately want to separate themselves from the bottom of the league and land in that middle tier, a home win over the Johnnies is almost imperative. Must wins the first week of January? Well, when you have Pittsburgh on tap three days later, the sooner you get yourself into the winning column, the better.

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