Providence started freshman Josh Fortune, sophomore LaDontae Henton, juniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts, and senior Vincent Council. This will be a familiar lineup to the Friars for the first part of the season, where injuries and eligibility will keep the Friars shallow in the depth chart. The starter accounted for 73% of the total playing time, but demonstrated how a year has helped them all grow as individuals and a team.
A long offseason of extra hours in the gym for Bryce Cotton highlighted his performance on Saturday. He was the leading scorer of the game with 23 total points. While the Friars started off the game going up 9-0, but Cotton began off his day by hitting two back to back 3 point shots to put the Friars up almost beyond reach early, 17-2. Cotton's ability to score has never been debated, but today's performance saw him demonstrating how versatile he's become. On 7-10 shooting the junior shooting guard was able to complete 4 of his 5 shots beyond the arc, convert 5 of his 6 free throws, and still finish with 3 assists and 2 steals in 34 minutes of play.
The Friars would accelerate to 21-2 just 6 minutes into the start of the game.
Vincent Council, the sole senior on this year's Friar squad, demonstrated that his ability to pass the ball is still his strongest asset, finishing the game with 12 assists. At 11 points total on 5-8 shooting Council showed how he can help his team win in ways beyond putting the ball in the hoop. With behind the back passes, alley-oop's, and passing through traffic, Council is living up to early claims by head coach Ed Cooley that he could be the best point guard in the country. His handle continues to impress as well – the point guard demonstrated his agility by to quickly changing his direction of movement to create openings for shots and lapses in the opponent's defense.
Josh Fortune had his first outing as a Friar in this exhibition game. Although the freshman guard played well going 4-8 on shooting and logging in 12 points he struggled to find his rhythm, picking up two fouls early and another before the end of the first half. This limited the freshman to a mere 18 minutes (the least of any starter).
Forward/center Kadeem Batts could be the most improved player from the last season to this one. After having to sit most of last season, Batts had a breakout performance against a ranked Louisville team but struggled to find his niche on the team going forward. Those days seem to be behind him after his performance on both ends of the court. Batts rang in a double-double, going for 18 points on 8-14 shooting, and also grabbed 11 boards. In addition to an impressive stat line, Kadeem's post game has been much improved – he shuffles less and has a much more fluid set of movements around the rim, and he had several put-back baskets to add to his rebounding prowls. Additionally, Kadeem's step back jumper has improved, and his low-trajectory, high percentage midrange game will be crucial to a successful Friar offense in the future.
LaDontae Henton, the sophomore forward and fan favorite, also had a double-double with 14 points on 50% shooting (6-12) and 11 boards. His growth hasn't been as obvious as Batts, but he is showing improvement after an impressive freshman year that earned him a spot on the Big East All Rookie team.
With only three players playing off the bench, the most notable was Brice Kofane. He's still struggling with hanging onto the ball, but his shooting IQ has gone up. He shot a perfect game from the field (4-4), but only grabbed 5 rebounds. He demonstrated his ability to push back in the paint, and demonstrated some post moves, but still has work to do. Lee Goldsbrough and walk-on Ted Bancroft both played off the bench, but their contributions were limited and they both have progress to make.
Providence demonstrated a stronger level of decision-making in their shot selection than in season's past. Providence went 35-57 from the field for the game (61%) and an impressive 19-27 (70%) in the first half. The team struggled in the second half from the field by comparison but still shot a respectable 53% (16-30). Their three point shooting has stayed on par with previous seasons, going 5-11 overall (45.5%), but an impressive first half going 4-5. However, free throws continue to be an Achilles heel for the Friars, as they shot only 13-22 (59%) from the stripe. Whether this was first game issues or a bigger problem remains to be seen, but of all the improvements the team has made it is unfortunate to see such a critical aspect of the game not move forward with everything else.
Perhaps the biggest difference from last year was the defensive performance. In the first half alone the Friars not only limited the amount of shots that Assumption was able to take, but what they were able to convert as well. Assumption only got 16 shots off in the first half and converted 7 of them, shooting 43.5% in the first half. That includes 2-6 from 3-point land, good for 33%. Despite some defensive struggles in the second half Providence guarded even better, allowing Assumption to convert only 9 of their 32 attempts (28%), and prevented Assumption from landing a single 3 point shot in the second half (0-11). Assumption finished the game with 33% shooting, 11% from 3 point land, and had 20 turnovers (allowing Providence to score 27 point from these lapses in judgment). Last year, Providence tried a variety of defensive options against Assumption in hopes of finding a defensive identity, this season Providence knew who they were on the defensive end of the court and made it known.
The talk surrounding the Friars team has now been demonstrated for the first time on the court. Kadeem Batts is the most improved player, and Council has emerged as a true leader. Cotton has continued to grow as a shooter and player, while Kofane and Henton have both made progress. Fortune demonstrated his ability to shoot, and as he becomes more comfortable on a college level should see his numbers improve. Most importantly, the team is finally playing as a single unit on both ends of the court.
Friars' Exhibition Goes Off with a Bang
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