Fairfield appears well coached, puts forth great effort, and plays solid defense. Unfortunately, for Sidney Johnson, his team simply struggles to put the ball in the basket. Derek Needham tied his season-high with 18 points, but it wasn't going to be nearly enough as Ed Cooley took his old program seriously and had his Friar squad ready to take care of business. Providence did that to the tune of 66-47 win at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Friday night.
It was a workman like win, the kind that a team that is banged up and undermanned should be proud of, despite the fact Fairfield was not quite up to the talent level the Friars faced in Puerto Rico. The Friars defense was excellent in this game, and Fairfield struggled to score mightily, shooting only 35% and an ineffective 22% from behind the arc. This was particularly damaging to their cause when the Friars sat back in a zone for most of the second half.
After some dreadful shooting of their own in the first half, Providence moved the ball much better after halftime and shot 63% with good looks that decided the outcome quickly despite Fairfield's ability to keep it close in the first half. However, rebounding and defense for the Friars was a constant and really won the game for Providence, preventing any major challenge in this one.
Bryce Cotton is really carrying this team with his floor game right now, and despite being dogged by Stag defenders all game, he managed to put up good numbers as he led all scorers with 18 points . The one concern regarding Cotton is the ankle he injured in Puerto Rico. He looked healthy during the Fairfield game, but fell awkwardly in the closing minutes, and appeared to gut out the last few minutes in some pain and discomfort. Preliminary reports are that Cotton is a little banged up and tweaked that ankle again but it looks like he won't need to be shelved. However, that bears watching with Holy Cross coming to the Dunk on Tuesday.
The accelerated education of Josh Fortune continues, and it is one of the positive consequences of the Friars' depleted roster. Fortune has the makings of a fine four-year Big East talent, which will be indispensible once Ricky Ledo's comet eventually finds its way to the NBA. His five turnovers were a bit of a concern, so he'll need some time at Shammgod's dribbling academy to tighten that up before the Big East schedule begins.
Fairfield had no answer for Kadeem Batts, who didn't make many baskets but got to the line once again on a regular basis. He has finally developed a legitimate inside game that should transfer well into Big East games. However, with Sidiki Johnson a frustrating 3 weeks into his NCAA appeal with not word, Batts can ill afford to get into foul trouble, which limited him to 23 minutes against Fairfield.
LaDontae Henton was solid against Fairfield, but he did most of his damage on the inside and has not found his 3 point range yet this year. Henton had 15 points and 8 rebounds, but was 1-5 from beyond the arc, and still seems a bit uncomfortable with the spots he's receiving the ball this season. Not having Vincent Council for the time being to attract attention appears to be causing some sophomore adjustment problems for Henton. The view here is that he will round into form with the return of Council and in time for Big East competition.
As for Brice Kofane, Lee Goldsbrough, and Ted Bankcroft, the unsung three all pulled their weight to contribute to the victory and were more than Thanksgiving leftovers. All these players have their limitations, but they also performed much-needed tasks that ease the burden on the primary scorers on the team. Goldsbrough had one of his best games as a Friar, scoring 9 points to go with 8 rebounds, which was crucial with the Batts in foul trouble.
Kofane had a couple of impressive blocks and a few more altered shots, which will continue to be needed all year long. He simply needs all the individual work he can get to improve his basketball fundamentals. Ted Bancroft, the pride of Marion, Mass, did all the little things to play defense and be in the right spot. He defended adequately, scored a basket, had a steal, a couple of rebounds, and an assist in 17 minutes. The best compliment you can give a walk-on on a high major team is that they looked like they "fit in" out on the court. Bancroft did just that.
Providence takes on old New England rival Holy Cross at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm.
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