Providence Escapes The Bulldogs' Grasp

The end of the first semester could not come fast enough for Ed Cooley and his Providence College Friars. PC barely escaped the upset minded Bryant University Bulldogs, 72-61, in a game that was much closer than the final score.

After the game, Cooley was asked when he suspected things might not be right in Friartown. "I woke up at 2:30 this morning and my wife asked if I was having trouble sleeping," Cooley replied. "I told her that something just doesn't feel right about this one in my gut."

Indeed, the Friars came out of the gate sluggish and lethargic and almost immediately fell behind 4-0. Cooley called a quick timeout and yanked four starters, all but Bryce Cotton, replacing them with two walk-ons, Chris Carter and Ted Bancroft, and Bilal Dixon and Brice Kofane. That combination played for three minutes, and while scoring options were limited, Carter pulled down two rebounds and Bancroft one.

When the starters returned, Bryant still led, 4-2, but Cotton began to heat up, scoring on a number of jumpers just inside the three point line and free throws. PC led 11-6, but Bryant grabbed the lead on a three by Frank Dobbs, 18-17, and except for one tie, maintained that lead throughout the remainder of the first half.

Forward Alex Francis (17 points, 13 rebounds) gave the Friars first half fits with quick drives to the basket and a nice midrange game. A layup by Dan Calandrillo with nine seconds remaining gave Bryant a 30-29 edge and when Vincent Council missed a three at the buzzer, the Bulldogs had the halftime lead. If not for Cotton, who had poured in 20 of the Friars' 29 points, PC would have been trailing by a whole lot more.

Over the first five minutes of the second half, things got even worse for Providence. Callandrillo and Dobbs combined to give Bryant it's biggest lead of the game, at 41-33. With Cooley helpless to stop the onslaught, Cotton remained hot, pulling PC within 41-40 after two drives that resulted in free throws and Gerard Coleman runout for a layup.

The game remained tight for the next several minutes before Bryant made their last push. The Bulldogs attacked PC's post defense. A layup by Francis, two free throws by Francis, a layup by Corey Maynard and another layup by Claybrin McMath put Bryant up, 56-49 with 6:54 to play.

PC's comeback began with a LaDontae Henton layup off of a missed Council jumper, another Coleman runout layin, a jumper by Cotton off a midcourt Council steal, and the Friars grabbed the lead on layup by Council after another steal. The run was on and Providence did not stop. By the time Bryant scored again, PC had ripped off a 19-0 run and led 68-56 with just :48 left, and had sealed the win.

In the last four-plus minutes of the game, Bryant contributed to it's own downfall. With perhaps the biggest upset in program history staring them in the face, the Bulldogs noticeably tightened up and started forcing bad shots, including a number of long, quick three pointers. Bryant turned the ball over several times, struggling with PC pressure, and every rebound went the Friars' way. This was clearly a case of a young program not knowing how to win and close out a big game.

To the Friars' credit, PC chose the right moment to awaken, put pressure on in the right spots, began to control the glass and hit some jumpers and knocked down free throws. For the game, PC hit 22-24 free throws (92%), compared to just 3-6 for Bryant, and outrebounded the Bulldogs, 37-32.

The Friars were led by Bryce Cotton, who scored a career-high 34 points on 11-16 shooting (2-4 from three) and 10-10 from the charity stripe. Henton pitched in with 13 points and 12 boards and Coleman hot 9-10 free throws on the way to 13 points. Eight points and 7 assists by Council (3-14 shooting) made up most of the PC's scoring. One major concern that has arisen is a lack of balance in the scoring column for the Friars. Four Friars scored 68 of the 72 points, and the PC bench contributed just 2 points against Bryant. This, after just three players scored in the second half against Boston College.

With four players consistently playing major minutes, three games in five days apparently took its toll on the young, thin Friars. PC just didn't have its' legs for most of this contest. "We made it to the finish line," said Cooley. "We barely made it, but we made it."

Now the Friars get ten days off to study and take finals and make sure they are in good academic shape and the second semester begins on December 20 with a tilt against New Hampshire. Then, the in-state war with Rhode Island and then the Big East. At 9-2, Providence has put itself in position to exceed expectations for the season and the second half will be interesting.

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