As one of the four teams the Friars have a home and home with, Providence won their first game this season over the Wildcats in Providence. Despite foul trouble and a hard time protecting the ball, the Friars beat Villanova at the Pavilion Center for the first time since 2004, 55-52.
On Guard: The rematch between the Wildcats and the Friars was eerily similar (and likewise revealing) from the first matchup. The key similarity was the performance between Providence College's two main guards, Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton. In the first matchup between the two teams Council fouled out, but in doing so, Providence went on a run to seal the victory. This time, however, Providence was tied at 52 with 44 seconds left. Council brought up the ball and, working the clock, eventually took a drive to the hoop and missed at the rim. It was a last second tip out by Lee Goldsbrough that allowed Cotton to get the rebound and, with 2.2 seconds left, heave up a shot from the hip and hit a three pointer, sealing the victory for the Friars.
Council struggled all game, shooting only 2-11 from the field and had as many assists as he did turnovers (six). Guards are allowed to have bad games - this is normal, but in the final games of Council's college career, Council is becoming ineffective for a full 40 minutes. Instead, the bulk of responsibilities are being relied on by Cotton and freshman point guard Kris Dunn. The final seconds on Sunday just added another example to an already strong case: Cotton is quickly becoming the leader of this team, and he is bringing the team over the hump and winning games in doing so.
Foul Trouble: Once again, Kadeem Batts struggled against the Wildcats, finding himself in foul trouble and out of the game flow. Not even 20 seconds into the game Batts was already called for his first foul, and with 14:19 left in the first he was called for a second. While the entire team struggled (the Friars had 22 fouls called against them for the game, whereas they only converted 18 baskets) Batts' foul trouble caused rebounding pains and allowed the Wildcats to score in the paint.
In rebounding, the Friars were outworked 38-33, and nobody on the team had more than six. In the paint the Friars were outscored 24-10. As the season has progressed, Batts has shown improvement, but now must avoid getting into foul trouble to keep him in the game, prevent the Friars from being outrebounded and outscored in the paint, and provide the much-needed post presence that will be lacking without Sidiki Johnson playing for the Friars.
Fortunate: Ed Cooley had said at the beginning of the season he wanted to see Josh Fortune take nine shots during one game, because he was just that good of a shooter. As the season progressed and Fortune continued to struggle from the field, get in the flow of the game and find meaningful minutes for himself, questions of whether or not Fortune could adjust to college ball this season started to get raised. While one game isn't a performance worth erasing an entire season up until now, it does help change the tune.
Providence has struggled with limitations this season, especially with available shooters. In his best game yet, Fortune said, "I can do this," and went a perfect 5-5 from three point range, including 4-4 in the first half alone. Fortune added 29 minutes and was the second leading scorer in the game for the Friars with 15 points. More importantly, Fortune looked confident in his shot. He found his openings and didn't get intimidated when a defender began to close in on him. His stroke is also starting to smooth out, and his additional strength is being controlled enough where he can step out a few paces beyond the three point stripe and still shoot consistently.
Game Plan: Up nine with under five minutes to go, the Friars seemed to turn off the offensive switch and play stall ball while in possession of the basketball. The Friars did not attempt to create an offense for scoring, but rather an offense based on hanging onto the ball until the last second, then making a shot attempt. These shots would not fall, and from 4:34 until the final seconds of the game the Friars did not score.
Meanwhile the Wildcats put a press on the Friars that resulted in five turnovers and a 9-0 run by the Wildcats, good to tie the game. The Friars could not break the press, complete a pass (the ball was often thrown out of the passing range of each other) and were even forced into backcourt violations. However, one of the most upsetting times during this performance was a two on one fast break the Friars had, bringing the ball up quickly. Rather than take the ball to the hoop, the Friars stopped at the top of the key and dribbled the ball until they ended up turning it over.
Fortunately, Cotton did make the shot when he did, and Villanova wasn't able to finish off a shot at mid-court to tie the game and send it into overtime, because at that point, PC was starting to look outplayed at the end.
The Friars return to home action on Wednesday at 7:00 against the Cincinnati Bearcats.
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