Friars Clip Crusaders, 82-77

Before the University of Connecticut, prior to Boston College, and right around the time the URI rivalry was budding, Providence College had another foe in New England. One that was almost a doppelganger of the Friars in every aspect – a small New England catholic school that sat atop a hill in a small city and where basketball ruled.

The Holy Cross Crusaders was THE New England team, only one of sixteen teams in the history of the NCAA to capture an NCAA title and an NIT title. Joe Hassett remembered this game as one of the biggest games of the year for the Friars. On Tuesday night, decades after the rivalry was buried, there were sparks of what that competition must've felt like, and in front of a crowd of 5,200 people the Friars captured the hard-fought win to move to 5-2.

Coming off a tough showing in South Padre, where the Friars went 0-2, fans were anxious to see how a thin team with a new coach would respond to this competition. The thought lingering in everyone's mind is "what will they change? How will they bounce back?" In the pregame, Cooley spoke about changing the lineup, going small with a three guard lineup of Vincent Council, Gerard Coleman, and Bryce Cotton to provide firepower from the very start. The frontcourt consisted of LaDontae Henton (who at this point could pretty much always be counted on to start) and Ron Giplaye, surprising fans since Giplaye has hardly seen the floor with each coach he's had.

The tipoff and start of the game felt like old school Keno ball, and in the press conference Cooley all but admitted it, saying that offensively it was a great game to watch and defensively he wanted to throw up. PC traded baskets with Holy Cross before taking turns capturing a one point lead after a Holy Cross three-ball 1:46 into the game. With Cotton coming off a three game shooting slump that left him feeling less confident, Cooley got in his face.

"BRYCE! SHOOT THE BALL!", he demanded, his voice thundering throughout the Dunk. Message received. With Holy Cross up 9-8 Cotton nailed a three-ball to put the Friars up two, a small smile forming across his lips. His confidence was back, and that spelled bad news for the Crusaders as Cotton became an offensive machine who shot 5-7 in the first half and 2-3 from beyond the arc, allowing Providence a 47-38 lead at the half. His shooting prowess continued in the second half and, despite cooling off a bit, logged 24 points on 7-12 shooting including 3-6 from the three. The Bryce Cotton fans had adored and opponents were surprised and feared by had returned.

But basketball is a team sport, and in that sport you rely on your point guard to facilitate the offense and create opportunities for the other four guys. The greatest point guards in history won't be remembered just for their scoring abilities but their abilities to make their teammates better, and it appears that Friars point guard Vincent Council is budding into that type of guard. In the Southern game the entire team had a total of 6 assists, a number Cooley noted 3 blind mice could have if they wanted. By the first half Council eclipsed that with 7 assists and logged in 11 for the game, contributing 19 points and 7 rebounds, coming close to a triple double. Council's maturity was best exemplified when he forced a turnover at the half court and with just him and LaDontae there and no Crusaders to stop them Council took a dribble, stopped, literally handed the ball to Henton, and allowed Henton to go up for the dunk of the game. Cooley cited this as the perfect example of Council's budding maturity and growth as a top of the line Big East point guard.

With Providence up 16 in the second half everyone assumed they were about to witness a blowout. But by divine intervention (or just basketball) Holy Cross came charging back with an old crusade of their own, taking over the game in every aspect and tying the game up via forcing turnovers, drawing fouls, and making excellently placed shots. Suddenly it wasn't a Patriot League team and a Big East team playing basketball, it was two old New England powerhouses scraping away at each other. The game became emotional, fast. Cooley was taking charge from the sidelines vocally while on the opposite end the Holy Cross coach did everything he could to get his players to exploit the Friars.

"They have no inside presence! None!," he screamed, slamming his hands together to charge up his players in the game. And while PC's frontcourt did struggle – only Henton and Brice Kofane logged double digit minutes while Bilal Dixon played 6 and Lee Goldsbrough, who before was getting in the neighborhood of 20, only got 3 – they came up big when it counted most. While Crusaders forward Dave Dudzinski had a great game with 21 points and 11 rebounds, it wasn't enough to fully dispel Kofane who logged a total of 12 boards to help lead his team to 43 total boards for the night. After the game Cooley noted that they tried to piss off Kofane in practice by having him sit to motivate him, and that if Kofane would play like this when he's angry they're going to annoy him and not let him practice for the next month.

While essentially playing an 8 man rotation (9 if you really want to count the single minute that Chris Carter logged in while Coleman took a seat) there won't be a lot of options Cooley will have to play with. Essentially 4 players played the entire game with Henton, Council, and Cotton logging 40 minutes and Coleman with 39. The backcourt seems locked in for solid minutes this year due to a lack of depth on the bench, while the frontcourt remains to be seen where it will land. Before, both Kofane and Goldsbrough were collecting plenty of minutes, but it seems that everyone in the frontcourt is being taught the lesson of get on board or don't play. Expect the frontcourt to become more balanced in it's minutes distribution once Batts returns and likewise that will bring balance to the backcourt by reducing time where the three C's need to be played all at once. If anyone is guaranteed a spot it's LaDontae Henton, who helped win the game in the final seconds with a layup and one to put the Friars up three with seconds to go.

The Friars are on the road in the SEC Challenge this Thursday on ESPNU at 7 when they play the South Carolina Gamecocks before a week of back to back home games with cross city rival Brown on Monday, December 5 and then the fan favorite rivalry with the former Big East turned ACC Boston College Eagles is renewed on December 8. After 2 disappointing away losses on a neutral site fans have every reason to be nervous but it all depends on which Friars team shows up – will it be the one that trounced Fairfield on their home court, or the one that "should've stayed in the hotel" that played the University of Northern Iowa? A hard fought win at home should set the tone for the team in a positive manner and hopefully bring some confidence into South Carolina Thursday night.

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