After posting two impressive wins over Top 20 teams in Louisville and Villanova, fans were ready to begin thinking that Providence had turned an imaginary corner. Then came a dreadful performance against Seton Hall on the road, and the questions surrounding this team resurfaced.
But home seems to heal whatever ails the Friars. On a night when the forecast called for icy roads, which helped to limit the crowd to 3,785, the Friars turned in a so-so showing, but it was enough to beat a Jarrid Famous-less South Florida team.
Providence officials were genuinely surprised that Famous would miss the game, and in fact, had not even made the trip to Rhode Island. However, reports surfaced that Famous had injured his back in practice and his absence made the Bulls' frontcourt less formidable.
Still, the first half was a struggle for the Friars, who seemed flat and disjointed. The Bulls jumped PC early, driving the ball inside and frustrating the Friars' offense, which consisted of hoisting three pointers or driving one on three to the hoop, only to be rejected. Frustration spiked when Bilal Dixon picked up his second foul four minutes in, after Vincent Council had ignored him and launched an errant three. On his way to the sideline, Dixon screamed at his teammates as Gus Gilchrist shot free throws.
The Bulls led 15-9 before an 11-0 Friar run, capped by a Marshon Brooks three and a Bryce Cotton jumper, wiped out that lead. Over the final seven minutes of the half, neither team led by more than two points. Jawanza Poland and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick abused PC from outside and in, while the Friars used free throws by Ron Giplaye and a bucket by Gerard Coleman to stay even. Two free throws by Council put PC up, 29-27, but Poland answered with a three and when Council rimmed out a trey, South Florida held a one point lead at the half. "We used one run to get it to one at the half," said coach Keno Davis. " Almost all of their games had gone down to the wire, so we figured this one would play out that way too."
Providence had piled up a free throw advantage, one that would continue in the second half. But PC had shot poorly and been out-rebounded and only the one big run had kept them in the game. The feeling at the half was that South Florida had outplayed PC, yet was up by only one point.
Another big run would save PC in the second half. A layup by Poland gave the Bulls a 38-32 lead, but a baseline drive and layup by Cotton and a falling out of bounds layup by Brooks put PC up 41-40. A three pointer by Shaun Noriega put the Bulls ahead, 45-42 with 11:39 to play, but PC answered with a electric 14-2 run, featuring two baskets by Brooks, two layups by Ray Hall and a three by Duke Mondy. Now PC led 56-47, with just 5:48 to play. "We were constantly trying to get the tempo of the game up," Davis said. "We were trying to get a higher paced game."
The Bulls were not done. South Florida put together an 11-2 run of their own to knot the score at 58-all, after Fitzpatrick and Gilchrist each hit corner threes. Of course, PC aided USF's run, as Coleman repeatedly played one on one and drove to the basket, launching wild shots, and the Friars missed free throws. With Coleman out, PC's offense and defense stabilized and Brooks hit a huge three and followed with a driving dunk after Mondy poked the ball away from Poland. Hugh Robertson and Poland hit free throws and PC's lead was 63-61 with 1:37 left. "I felt it was better to be in a zone and pack it in and that worked for a while," said Davis. "But then they hit a couple of threes and it seemed they were getting comfortable, and in my gut I knew it was time to get out of the zone."
Brooks converted one free throw and Kadeem Batts blocked a Poland shot and then was fouled by Gilchrist. Batts sank both free throws for a 66-61 lead with eleven seconds left and PC had escaped with a win. For once, the Friars had won a game where they hadn't played especially well.
For the game, PC had been beaten in the paint, 32-26 and off the glass 35-32, but the Friars' defense had held South Florida to 63 points. The win could be attributed to PC outshooting USF from the charity stripe by a 28-12 margin, and forcing 16 turnovers compared to just 10. Brooks shot 6-10 in the second half and scored 16 of his game-high 24 points, while Council chipped in with 12. They were the only Friars in double figures, as PC shot just 42% from the floor.
But the Friar who made a huge impact, on the floor, if not in the box score, was fifth year senior Ray Hall. Hall played 13 minutes while filling in for the foul-plagued Dixon, and scored 3 points and had 2 boards, but filled up space on defense, put a body on the Bulls' big men, passed well and was an immovable object in the middle for PC.
In the end, South Florida controlled the pace but lost the game. And, in improving to 14-9 overall and 3-7 in the Big East, that was all that mattered to the Friars.
NOTES: The team in red behind PC's bench was St. John's Prep from Wisconsin. They are in town to play in the prep tournament this weekend down at URI… The 14 wins this season give Providence College 1,300 wins in the program's history… Marshon Brooks has now scored 536 points this season in 23 games for a 23.3 average. He now has 1,377 career points… The Friars now travel to Georgetown for a Saturday noon contest and then play again the following Sunday at Connecticut. The road gets no easier for a team that has struggled mightily away from home.
Friars Bull Way Past South Florida
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