Friars Out-tough and Out-scrap Villanova

After returning from a two game road trip where the Friars went 1-1, Providence returned home to face off against fellow Catholic 7 member Villanova University in front of a crowd of 10,859. A dogfight that lasted two and a half hours saw PC fall behind by as much as 12 in the first half before Providence made a second half comeback and secured their second Big East win of the season, 69-66.

Scrappy: The Friars played easily their most physical game to date. The matchup with the Wildcats saw 55 total fouls, a technical foul on Kris Dunn, 73 total free throw attempts, and four players foul out.

After the game both coaches acknowledged that this was the type of physical toughness they wanted their teams to play with. Coach Ed Cooley was especially empathetic towards the Friars' cutthroat defensive performance, which he claimed was the reason why the Friars ended up winning. It's true that while the Friars didn't have much offense to speak of (the team shot 33.9% from the field for the game, including an abysmal 20% first half performance, connecting on only 6-30) their hard-nosed pressure in the second half was able to throw Villanova off their game plan.

With 55 total fouls the game was gradually rising in tension with both teams not willing to accept that they were softer than the other. This reached a boiling point with 26 seconds left to play and the Friars up five, 67-62.

Providence had just gotten the ball back after two Wildcat free throws and was looking to inbound when Ryan Arcidiacono, a Villanova guard assigned to Dunn, began pushing Dunn away to disrupt Kris' ability to catch the inbounds pass. This shoving from Arcidiacono resulted in Dunn falling into the courtside seats, where he was caught by Friars fans who helped him keep his balance. Dunn, losing his cool, retaliated by shoving Arcidiacono back, which prompted Arcidiacono to fall backwards with a coy smirk. The officials reviewed the play and found Dunn to be the only one at fault, slapping a technical on Dunn, awarding Villanova two free throws (which were both converted) and the ball back. Ed Cooley, furious, made a point in his post game press conference to mention that while Dunn was young he would not be allowed to forget this mistake and would learn from it as Cooley continues to groom his rapidly developing point guard.

Fowl Shooting: The Friars hit an all-time low in their foul shooting performance. In a game where Providence had 48 opportunities to convert, they only connected on 29, good for 60% from the charity stripe for the game. However, this was truly abysmal due to their starting efforts – they began the game by going 0-6, finally connecting on a few and starting 3-12 shortly thereafter.

While the Friars overall couldn't seem to find a way to buy a bucket (Bryce Cotton acknowledged his poor shooting performance in the post game press conference, calling it "the worst I've shot since I've been at Providence") there was no valid excuse for missing free throws. Coach Cooley took full responsibility for this performance, claiming that he was the free throw shooting coach and would have to work more with his team since this type of performance was unacceptable.

Loose Balls: Part of the reason the Friars were able to come back and win the game was due to their defense, and no two stats in the box score highlight this better than Villanova's turnovers and Providence's offensive rebounds.

For the game the Wildcats had an unprecedented 25 turnovers, including 16 in the second half of the game when the Friars started pressing and trapping the Villanova guards. The result of this was 30 points off turnovers for the Friars (compared to just 6 points off 13 turnovers for the Wildcats). Jay Wright was baffled by this and had no answers in the press conference, and could only acknowledge the tough defense and rapidly improving Friars for their efforts.

Likewise, the Friars added 14 more points to their total on second chance opportunities. This was largely due to their ability to crash the offensive glass and pull down 19 offensive rebounds, compared to Villanova's 9. While arguably poor shooting could have attributed to the Friars being able to have this many offensive rebounds, it is equally important to consider that this type of statistic shows where the mentality of the team is. Even after so many missed shots the Friars still got aggressive and didn't allow Villanova to rustle them around in the paint. This demonstrates the type of offensive discipline that was lacking under the former coaching staff, and something that's needed in order to win games.

The Friars return to action Tuesday night at home against the Pittsburgh Panthers at 7 p.m. This will be the last time the Friars play Pitt in the regular season as a conference member.

COREN'S NOTES:
• Bryce Cotton is quietly having a heroic junior season. The unflappable guard has a knack for hitting clutch shots and his three pointer with PC up three and 1:04 remaining was a dagger and the shot of the game. Despite struggling from the three point line, Cotton scored on a variety of floaters and layups and has really diversified his game.
Sidiki Johnson continues to show improvement and a toughness in the paint that PC has lacked. He has strong hands, rebounds and a nose for the ball. If he can improve his decision-making and maintain his cool under pressure, Johnson can be a real contributor.
• Kris Dunn is another who has shown continuous improvement. His court vision and passing ability is exceptional and his length and athleticism make him a real pain in the butt defensively. Again, decision-making and shooting are the two areas of continued development.
• Two Friars are really struggling now. Josh Fortune may have hit the freshman wall, a victim of too many minutes early on. For LaDontae Henton, mechanical adjustments to his shot may be needed, along with a renewed commitment to attack the rim on offense. By scoring close to the basket and then expanding the range on his attempts outward, he may rediscover his outside form.

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