For the first 11 games of the season – plus two exhibition games – the 6'9 redshirt sophomore was nowhere to be seen, suspended from the team for "not taking care of business academically." While he was out, PC mostly won, but struggled in the frontcourt, both offensively and defensively.
The big men on the roster – Bilal Dixon, Brice Kofane, Lee Goldsbrough and Ron Giplaye – either lacked offensive skills, didn't rebound or suffered on defense. Coming into the season, it was clear that Kadeem Batts was the most talented, well-rounded big man on the roster and possessed the most offensive skills.
With Batts back, the Friars now have a fifth scoring option and a frontcourt player who is mobile and can bang inside. It took eight minutes for Kadeem to make his debut with the Friars leading, 14-5, and the big man looked rusty, bobbling one ball and having another slapped away from behind when he brought the ball down too low. But overall, he settled down, scored 9 points on 4-7 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds in 18 minutes. The best news was that he looked close to game shape.
All of which was bad news for Dixon. Bilal played just three minutes and looked bad on a sweeping drive across the lane where he badly missed a lay-up. Just what role Dixon will play this season remains a mystery at this point. The quality of his play has deteriorated over the past two seasons and he seems to be slipping on the depth chart among PC's post players.
Right now, Batts is clearly ahead of Dixon, skill-wise. Kofane has no offensive skills but is much more active and mobile on defense and gives PC a legitimate shot blocking threat. He played 20 minutes against UNH and will continue to see significant minutes for what he brings. Ron Giplaye has started the past six games, but has been unproductive and usually has come out after two or three minutes, rarely returning. Dixon will battle Giplaye and Goldsbrough for minutes, and has some of the skills necessary to emerge the winner in that battle, but will he? An obviously unhappy camper on the bench, Dixon will need to overcome both internal and external obstacles to become a consistent contributor this year.
Meanwhile, this game was a contrast in the scouting abilities of two coaching staffs. On the PC side, Ed Cooley and gang had ten days to look at Wildcat tape and knew that New Hampshire was a three point shooting team. Sure enough, New Hampshire hoisted 29 threes, 17 in the first half, but hit just seven, ten percentage points below their season average. Point guard Chandler Rhoads shot 0-6 from the floor and scored just 4 points.
On the other hand, coach Bill Herrion and staff knew PC was vulnerable inside, and indeed, after trailing 29-23 at the half, the Wildcats began pounding the ball inside and used that tactic to take a 34-32 lead. But Vincent Council took matters into his own hands and scored 8 straight points on driving lay-ups and free throws to put PC back up, 40-35. From that point, PC slowly drew away as New Hampshire went away from what was working and went back to throwing up three pointers, most of which missed. While the Friars began the game looking sluggish, as the second half went on, PC wore down the Wildcats.
When LaDontae Henton began to heat up – all 11 of his points came in the second half – his lay-up put PC up by its biggest margin, at 65-46. Although Council did not score again in the final fourteen minutes, he finished with 17 points and 12 assists and distributed the ball well, except for one sequence where he kept forcing long lead passes looking for spectacular plays. But a quick word from Cooley settled him back down and the Friars were never threatened.
Gerard Coleman continued his strong play, with 20 points and he repeatedly slashed to the rim for easy lay-ins. While the Friars outrebounded New Hampshire, 42-36, they were once again outrebounded on the offensive glass, 12-6, exposing a weakness that will hurt them in upcoming games.
One team that hasn't played well this season, but has hit the offensive glass pretty well is the University of Rhode Island, PC's next opponent. With a 1-10 record, many fans are overlooking the Rams, but URI could hurt PC with second chance opportunities. The Rams get Billy Baron and Andre Malone eligible for the PC game and gauging their potential is impossible. Then there is the Ryan Center factor, as in the Friars have never won there. On the other hand, Ed Cooley understands this game, and one would think he will have PC up and ready to play. A lot of questions.
Friday night will provide the answers.
Batts Return Marks PC Win
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