Worn Out PC Survives Mississippi State

After three days without a game the Friars returned to action on Saturday at noon, competing in the Big East/SEC Challenge. Providence outlasted Mississippi State, 73-63.

The Friars had won two in a row against their SEC opponents, securing a victory last year on the road against South Carolina, and closing out Alabama at the Dunk the year before. This time, Mississippi State came to town. The Friars held a comfortable 16-point lead at halftime, 39-23, and despite a second half surge from Mississippi State, the Bulldogs weren't able to erase a 26 point deficit, securing the Friar win.

Cotton Injured (Again): Bryce Cotton, the interim point guard for the Friars while Kris Dunn and Vincent Council regain health, again suffered a game-dismissing injury, pulling up lame after a three pointer with under four minutes left in the first half. With only 16 minutes logged in for the game, Cotton was seen limping into the inner bowl of the Dunk, forcing the Friars to play a six-man rotation for the second time this season. Reports came later from Kevin McNamara that there was no serious damage to Cotton's knee, and he would be evaluated in anticipation for Thursday's matchup with URI. Cotton contributed nine points and two assists before leaving the game.

Kadeem Batts Leads the Way: Kadeem Batts has proven himself as an essential member of the Friar squad again, this time carrying the team in points and rebounds. Batts had a career-high 32 points on 12-18 shooting, and also grabbed 8 rebounds. More importantly, however, is the leadership Batts displayed at the end of the game. When Mississippi State started surging back into the game and bad passes and turnovers were plaguing the Friars, Batts took control on both ends of the floor and he helped lead his team to secure the win.

Mississippi State's Wind Sprint: There are runs in every basketball game. Providence had one early, going on a 13-1 run to help build an early lead that seemed to put an early nail in the coffin for the game. Mississippi State had other ideas and, with 10 minutes left, began wind sprinting to the finish. Providence led 61-35 with three-fourths of the game put away, and even without Cotton seemed to be cruising to another win. Mississippi State went on a 25-5 run in the next five minutes to close the gap to four, 66-62, with less than a minute remaining. The Friars had to rely almost exclusively on free throws during this time, as they only converted on one field goal attempt for the remaining 10 minutes of the game.

Josh Fortune is Growing Up, not Grown Up: Josh Fortune is a curious player. Billed as a shooter, he shows flashes of greatness putting the ball up, seemingly unstoppable once he finds his groove. Additionally he's shown versatility in passing and defending, making him more than just a "bench specialist" who's only brought in for a few key purposes. However, Josh struggles with consistency, a sign of youth in basketball. While hitting 2-11 isn't an awful thing, and five turnovers isn't the worst performance ever, it does highlight a point where Fortune is at in his game. He's young and will make mistakes, and he can't be faulted for having to assume responsibilities he's not ready for, but in this case it almost cost Providence the game.

Too many times was the ball turned over by a bad pass, or given up on a bad shot selection. This is not a statement to Josh being untalented, nor is it saying he's limited – neither of those statements are true – this is a realization that Fortune is a victim of having to take on more responsibility than he's ready for given his age. He can handle it for a game at a time, or in small doses, but too much will overwhelm him, and fans almost saw that happen.

Note from Coren: This was a situation where the Friars depth - or lack thereof - almost caught up to them. Once Cotton was lost and PC was forced to play six players, with no point guard, the sense of hanging on was palpable.

An SEC team like Mississippi State has athletes and the Bulldogs smelled blood. They increased the pressure on Fortune, who is not a point guard but was asked to play the position with Council and Cotton out, and the young freshman wore out.

As hard as Ted Bancroft, LaDontae Henton and Batts played, turnovers, bad passes and shots and panic plays had PC hanging on for dear life at the end. With no depth, the team was clearly gassed in the final five minutes, allowing the visitors to creep uncomfortably close. Key free throws by Henton and Batts sealed it, but PC will need Cotton back for Thursday's URI matchup. Reinforcements can't arrive soon enough.

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