Friars Suffer 2nd Stinging Loss

Providence felt the sting of their second straight stinging loss, losing 83-79. Had they avoided a critical turnover, or made a few more free throws to match their spirited effort, Providence would have pulled off a top 5 upset. Instead, the Friars gave Pittsburgh the chance to escape with a win, and good teams like the Panthers don't let opportunities like that pass them by.

There is no truth to the rumor that Friartown is being renamed Heartbreak City. Providence has played well in three Big East games, but lost all three, the last two having been lost in the final minute. Beating the Pitt Panthers has been extremely difficult for Providence in recent years, and now there have been two straight games against them that have been nothing short of excruciating for the Friars and their fans.

Things were looking good with 1:32 left in the game, as Marshon Brooks nailed a big three pointer that gave Providence a four point lead at 76-72. That's when things unraveled for Providence. After Pittsburgh scored and cut the lead to two, the Friars had about a minute to go in order to pull off the upset. Suffice to say things could not have gone worse from there. A rushed pass by Vincent Council was bobbled by Gerard Coleman and led to a turnover. Pittsburgh came back down and hit a huge three pointer by Travon Woodall, a player who has struggled with his shot all year. Down one now, Providence worked the ball in the half court but when Vincent Council drove and kicked out a pass to an open Coleman, the freshman missed the open three point shot.

In retrospect, there was enough time on the shot clock to get the ball to Brooks or Mondy who are better outside shooters, but give Coleman credit for having the confidence to want to take a big shot. Coleman made a big three minutes earlier and help lead a comeback from down 10 at the 7:20 mark, but it's not the shot he should be taking at that point unless the clock is running down. After Providence fouled, McGhee made two key free throws, and the Friars were now down three. Vincent Council quickly drew a foul going to the basket, but missed both free throws. At that point, it was just a matter of Woodall making two more shots from the foul line to seal the game and escape with a win.

Providence did a great job limiting Ashton Gibbs who only scored 9 points, but the three point shooting in the first half by Gilbert Brown (5-6) was a big difference in this game. That type of display was not expected from a player who had only made 16 threes all season prior to the Providence game. Travon Woodall's late game execution was also somewhat of surprise on team with so many upperclassmen. Perhaps this was all just a case of a good, experienced team finding a way to win.

Providence really competed well in this game, and it was clear the crowd of over 9,000 appreciated the great effort the Friars displayed all game long. Pittsburgh, who averaged 17 more rebounds than their opponents all year, only pulled down four more than the Friars. Providence also forced 23 Pittsburgh turnovers, which is a season high for the Panthers. Providence scored 10 more points in the paint, and even had one more 2nd chance point, an area that Pittsburgh excels at. Finally, Marshon Brooks must be given credit again proven his ability to score on anyone in the Big East. After putting up 20 or more points in all three Big East games (28pts vs. Pitt), the senior is looking like a good bet for first team All Big East this season.

Providence does not know how to beat the best teams yet. Much of that is inexperience, some of it is poor execution like missed free throws or poor shot selection early in the shot clock. Facing a record of 0-3 in the Big East, Providence has now dug themselves a hole and is struggling right now to stay relevant even early on in this Big East season. That is discouraging for a team that on so many levels is easier to root for than last year's Friars. They are improving on offense. They are improving on defense. They are giving great effort and showing resiliency, but they don't have the Big East wins to show for it.

Despite the frustrating 0-3 start in the Big East, fortunes can change quickly and with solid play going forward, Providence could make up ground over the next three road games. Rutgers and South Florida are both winnable games, even on the road. West Virginia, though considered nearly unbeatable at home in recent years, suddenly looks vulnerable this year. If Providence maintains the effort on both ends that they showed against Pittsburgh and frankly for long periods against both Syracuse and St. John's, they may find a way to tighten up their late game execution enough to steady the ship and grab some wins. However, if Providence doesn't take advantage of opportunities to win say two of the next three games, they will risk going into another tailspin like they experienced last season.

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