Life and death with a Division II team (albeit a very good one). A squeaker of a win. Get used to a new reality, Friar fans, because the 2011-12 season is going to be one of struggles as Ed Cooley rebuilds the PC program.

Providence College welcomed UMass-Lowell into the Dunk for its second and final exhibition game, and before 5,107 fans, edged into the win column, 76-75. On a number of occasions, the Friars threatened to break the game open, but never could put the hammer down. Repeatedly, UMass-Lowell stormed back on the heels of missed free throws or untimely turnovers.

PC led 34-20 with 4:29 left in the first half, but walked into the lockerroom tied, 37-37. After leading 72-61 with 4:53 left in the game, the Friars failed to score in the final three minutes and barely were able to hang on. Coach Cooley called a timeout with four seconds remaining and UMass-Lowell to inbound the ball. As the ball skipped around the perimeter, the Friars did a good job of switching defensively until the ball reached guard Akeem Williams with a tick remaining. At that moment, the defensive switch never materialized and Williams found himself wide open with a top of the key look. As Williams released the ball, an audible groan emanated from the crowd, but the shot hit iron, enabling PC to escape.

With that, the Friars turn to the regular season, with a 2:00 opener on Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson. And with that, this observer offers five thoughts from the UMass-Lowell nail-biter.

When free throws turn into foul shots
Free throws are called what they are because, well, they're free. No one is guarding you. For the Friars' though, free throws against the River Hawks turned into a truly foul proposition. After struggling a bit against Assumption from the charity stripe (15-25, 60%), PC clanged freebie after freebie against UMass-Lowell, hitting just 14 of 32 for a .438 percentage. And it got worse in the second half, with just 6 of 15 made.

No one can survive shooting free throws that way. Make a few more and this game goes from nail-biter to comfortable. What's worse, even players who were reasonably proficient last year, like Vincent Council, struggled. Only Bryce Cotton looked comfortable from the line and inspired any confidence. This is something that has to be addressed and turned around immediately. After the game, Coach Cooley seemed surprised. "We work on pressure situations shooting free throws in practice all the time. I never expected this."

Rich or poor, it's always good to have money
Right now, the Friars are definitely not rich with depth. Missing Kadeem Batts and Kiwi Gardner again, Cooley has few quality options. Lee Goldsbrough started at center and pulled down six rebounds in 18 minutes, but looks uncomfortable catching the ball on offense. Ron Giplaye played only two inconsequential minutes against a Division II team. Brice Kofane got into foul trouble and has limited offensive skills.

When Chris Carter decided to return for a grad year as a walk-on, it's doubtful that the staff realized how fortuitous that decision would be. Carter hustles, plays good position defense and was important enough to be on the floor for UMass-Lowell's last few possessions. Unfortunately, when Carter is in the game, the offense is playing four-on-five, but that can be said for several of the scholarship players, as well. One thing that Ed Cooley has available to sell to potential recruits: Lots of minutes.

Only the strong survive
For a perimeter-oriented team, the Friars had 23 turnovers against the River Hawks. But, as Cooley said, "I'll bet ten of those came from plays where UMass-Lowell just ripped the ball out of our hands." This was a true statement. Repeatedly, PC players grabbed rebounds or intercepted passes and then had the ball stolen right back by UMass-Lowell players, who either poked the ball free or flat-out tore the ball away from Friar clutches. The biggest victims were Gerard Coleman, Lee Goldsbrough and Brice Kofane.

"This goes to physical strength and mental strength," said Cooley. Too often, Friars grabbed rebounds and lowered the ball, only to be stripped. Goldsbrough has the height and simply needs to keep the ball high and make quicker decisions. Coleman has always been slight and needs further bulking up. And Kofane has very questionable hands. A marvelous athlete, Kofane struggles to catch the ball and as a result, misses on rebound opportunities and easy scoring chances. Strong hands and killer effort are the only things that will solve this issue.

Learning is not an overnight thing
When you watch LaDontae Henton play, you see a basketball player. A flawed basketball player, but one that, in time, can be a very solid player for the Friars, and who will need to contribute right away. Against the River Hawks, he chipped in with 12 points and 9 rebounds in 26 minutes, but with Henton, you take the ups with the downs.

"LaDontae is just running around out there right now," Cooley said. "He's still learning and that's obvious when you watch him." Henton has a nose for the ball and will crash to the glass, but lacks elite athleticism and jumping ability. Several times, he was swallowed up inside against UMass-Lowell and was rejected on close-in attempts at the basket. He often drew fouls, but sank just 2-6 from the line. Still, Henton is one to keep an eye on. As he begins to understand the offense and his role and refrains from forcing the issue, he should blossom for the Friars.

You can't help but be impressed
Who worked harder this offseason than Bryce Cotton? Easily the Most Improved Player and certainly the Most Valuable Player from the exhibition season, Cotton scored 26 points on 10-12 shooting and just poured points in at the most opportune moments for PC. Cotton is playing with an incredible amount of confidence and looks better handling the ball and on defense. His shooting – whether three pointers or pull-up jumpers – has been outstanding.

In fact, Gerard Coleman showed increased form and confidence in his short jumper, especially in the second half, fed by some success in the open court. Defensively, the Friars still give up too many open cuts and drives to the rim, but these things take time. Rebuilding a program is a brick-by-brick job, and reprogramming effort and desire is not a quick fix, especially when the overall talent level simply is not there. But the talent upgrade is beginning.

One final note: There is no truth to the rumor that Radio is going to name his new baby Sirius.

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