Friars Rocky Road Continues

After knocking off two Top 20 teams in row, there was a feeling that Seton Hall might be the road game where the Friars turn the corner. Those hopes were dashed after a disaster of a first half, as Providence could never recover and fell 81-71 at Seton Hall.

It is pretty clear by now that this edition of the Friars has a Jekyll and Hyde personality when you are comparing home versus away performance. At home, Providence has proven to be a giant killer and even looks like an NCAA tournament team at times with some good defense, rebounding, and scoring off of good ball movement in transition that is occasionally electric.

While at playing at home, the Friars have won all but two Big East games, and those two loses were by a combined total of six points to quality teams in St. John's and Final Four contender Pittsburgh. Providence also grabbed headlines by knocking off nationally ranked Louisville and Villanova.

The Sunday game against Seton Hall was not at home. Enter Mr. Hyde.

Providence simply has not been able to put together two good halves of basketball in a true road game road this year. Opposing teams overplay the perimeter, and dare Friars to make cuts and passes to get good shots. Providence struggles to maintain its composure on the road and instead of adjusting to the defense, they try to force dribble penetration that too often results in one on one play. The result is a slew of poor shots and turnovers.

Providence had more turnovers than made baskets in the first half versus Seton Hall. The Friars only tallied 8 assists the entire game. Due to Seton Hall's aggressive hand checking, Providence attempted 31 free throws, (9 more than Seton Hall) but converted less than 55% of them. Your team has no chance of winning with that type of box score, even if the players are giving good effort.

We will give the Friars the benefit of the doubt on effort, as they did out rebound Seton Hall by 5 and also recorded 8 blocks and 7 steals. However, the execution overall was so poor, particularly offensively, that it was impossible to overcome it.

The Friars were down 16 points at halftime, and fought back to within 8 in the last two minutes but the final outcome was never really in doubt. The Pirates were poor from the perimeter (3-19) like other recent Providence foes, but absolutely feasted on points in the paint (50pts.) and fast break baskets off of Friar miscues (20pts). Herb Pope had another monster game against Providence, registering a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds. Front court teammate Jeff Robinson nearly matched him with 20 points and 6 rebounds.

On the Friar side, only Bilal Dixon really had a breakout game. The struggling New Jersey native scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds which was a big improvement from recent performances. The problem is that Kadeem Batts had his worst game in a month going scoreless, and the Friar big men were continually abused on simple post up moves. Despite Providence blocking 8 Pirate shots, only 2 were by Dixon and Batts. The Friar interior defense is simply a major liability right now, particularly on the road, but Dixon's game showing signs of life again was an encouraging development.

Marshon Brooks struggled to score all afternoon, and although he still tallied 20 points, he had 9 ugly turnovers, which was largely a combination of not being strong with the ball and the senior trying to do too much to carry the team when his three point shot wasn't falling (2-8 from 3). Instead of receiving the ball off of good ball movement, he too often found himself on isolation drives with the shot clock winding down.

Providence simply did not take enough shots in this game, and Seton Hall had 16 more attempts from the field. That is an indication that the Friars could not get their transition game going, either due to turnovers or the inability to get stops.

The solution to this road malaise is not a simple one. They players must finally decide among themselves that they are sick of being their own worst enemy on the road and collectively learn to play smarter, more disciplined basketball in a hostile environment. In the short term, the Friars get to come back to the friendly confines of the Dunk where they will hope to grab a third Big East win against South Florida. The problem is that USF's strength is inside scoring, and the Friars will have do be much better job on the defensive interior to grab the win. The next road encounter at Georgetown can be pondered on another day.

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