PC Races Past South Carolina, 76-67

Kicking off the Big East/SEC Challenge this year was a match-up between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Providence College Friars. Early money said the odds of the Friars escaping this one alive were slim with their deplorable road record and a new system.

Ed Cooley and the Friars are determined to prove doubters wrong one game at a time, and brought an impressive win for the Big East and the team back to Providence by beating the Gamecocks, 76-67 and giving the Big East a 1-0 start on the Big East/SEC Challenge.

The Gamecocks led only once during the entire game with the opening shot made to give them a 2-0 edge. It wouldn't last. PC's back court did what it does best and converted, and based on minutes distribution, it's becoming more and more clear with each game that Cooley trusts them to take off with the ball and tweak little mistakes on the go.

Vincent Council hit a three to start off the Friars offense. Then Gerard Coleman hit a layup. Then LaDontae Henton. Providence led 15-5 with 12 minutes to go in the first half before the Gamecocks realized that the game had started and put together a nice run of their own, pulling within a basket of the Friars, before Cooley called a timeout and readjusted the team to put them back up by five. The game would be a game of Slow-Down, Speed-Up for the Friars, much like this sequence.

For the most part Providence kept the Gamecocks at a 7-11 point distance from them, putting on the gas a few times to extend that lead even further but never easing off on it so much that the Gamecocks could pull themselves ahead. Part of the flaw in the Gamecocks' plan was relying too heavily on the three ball, a mistake that anyone in Friartown could have corrected. Cooley and the Friars exploited this mistake excellently, scoring 16 points in transition and 19 off turnovers. When offensive slumps occurred, the team was able to adjust and find a way to hang onto the lead through a well executed zone defense. Their defense resulted in a struggle for the Gamecocks to convert – shooting 36% from the field and 20% from beyond the arc for the game. Overall the win was impressive because the Friars had brought a game plan and played it out nearly to perfection.

One important thing to note in this win was point distribution. It's been awhile since the Friars have had such a balanced team offense. Both Henton and Coleman logged 18, Council brought 16, Bryce Cotton contributed 13, and Bilal Dixon had 10. Only Ron Giplaye (who had his second career start and some record minutes with 13 minutes played) contributed single digits with a lone point coming off the back end of a pair of free throws. With 16 assists, everyone got a piece of the action because of team basketball. It's becoming more clear that the offense is pulling away from relying on one or two players to score everything and becoming more reliant on the team playing as a unit and sharing the basketball.

The most encouraging performance came from Bilal Dixon, who seems to finally be contributing to the team the way the fans and coaching staff expect him to. Prior to the game he had 6 blocks totaled for the season; last night he had 6 in the first half and 7 in the game. He also logged in 7 rebounds and went 4-7 from the field and shooting a perfect 2-2 from the line. He was engaged in the game, energized, and capitalizing on the feeds and plays his teammates were creating for him. Other than a few mistakes he had one of his best performances of his career. This is important because in a struggling front court situation (minus Henton who once again has continued to blow away anyone who sees him) Bilal could find a lot of minutes and help the team find a lot more wins if he continues to play this way. Though there are doubts that he'll maintain this output, last night was an encouraging step forward.

The Friars take the weekend off and return home for a four game home stretch to close out the remaining home games on their out of conference schedule. They'll take on Brown on Monday, Boston College on Thursday, Bryant on Saturday, and then have the next ten days off before their final OOC home game against UNH on December 20, also marking the return of Kadeem Batts.

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