Providence Escapes The RAC

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Three days after suffering their biggest blowout loss since last March, the Friars used a 19-0 run open up a margin by halftime and leveraged several key second-half plays by Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton to hold on for a 76-72 lead over Rutgers Saturday night at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.

The game was defined by three events: a run, an injury scare and a pair of run-outs.

First came the run, a 19-0 sprint reminiscent of the 23-2 run PC made to start the second half at USF just 10 days ago.

"We have some spurtability, just 'cause our guards, are pretty good," said Friars coach Ed Cooley, whose guard led the Friars to their fourth conference road win, most since 2008-09. "They can score it; they can drive it; they can pass it; they can shoot."

Before the spurt, the Friars trailed, 33-23, with 4:41 to play in the first half after Rutgers spent the first 15 minutes picking apart the PC defense.

The Knights scored those 33 points on just 24 possessions, a third of them by sophomore and one-time Providence recruiting target Kadeem Jack, who finished with a career-high 15 points to go with 10 rebounds.

At one point, even Kris Dunn could offer Rutgers' offense no resistance, as Mike Poole scored back-to-back jumpers over him and Dane Miller took him on the block over the course of three possessions.

With few answers in the man-to-man, Cooley switched to a 2-3 zone and threw something resembling a 1-3-1 for a single possession. The Friars managed to flip things around over the half's final seven possessions, holding Rutgers to 0-for-6 shooting and creating three turnovers, two by Dunn, who had four steals for the game.

"We had to get them out of rhythm a little bit," said Cooley on his switch to zone. "They were doing a good job carving us up, but a lot of it was coming off offensive rebounds. We had to find a way to slow them down."

That defensive stand coincided with an awakening from the Friars offense.

Cotton, off to a slow start, made his second field goal to start the run, a baseline runner at the 4:16 mark. Council then cut the lead to five when Cotton fed him for a 3-pointer from the right corner in PC's third bite at the apple on that possession.

Next, Council found Henton for the second of three 3-pointers for the sophomore. He'd make 3-of-4 on Saturday night. Henton's shot cut the lead to two with 2:59 to go, forcing a timeout from Rutgers coach Mike Rice, but he could offer no defense for the hot-shooting Friars.

"My teammates and my coaches have a lot of faith with my shot," said Henton, who entered the game having made just 22 percent of his 31 long-range efforts in conference play. "I've just been confident in it and been in the gym working on it."

"When LaDontae's able to make perimeter shots, it makes us a really hard guard, because we feel our guys can live in the lane," said Cooley. "That was a big part of our scouting was to get in the lane --penetrate and pitch, penetrate with a purpose."

A Dunn steal then led to a Council layup, and the game was tied with 2:29 left. On the next possession, an unintentional tip in by RU's Miller gave Fortune a gift basket and the Friars its first lead, 35-33 with 1:14 left.

Cotton closed the half in style, making a right-wing three off a Dunn feed and getting fouled by Miller in the process. Cotton completed the four-point play and then put himself into double figures by draining another 3-pointer as the first-half clock ticked to zero to give the Friars a 42-33 halftime edge.

"Sometimes I have a feeling when somebody's going to give me contact," said Cotton about his proclivity for converting four-point plays. "So I just concentrate a little more and get my shot up before the contact comes."

Rutgers fought back in the second half, using a Jack three-point play to cut the nine-point halftime lead to four at the 17:52 mark, and the Friars' advantage would see-saw from four to eight for the next five minutes.

And then came the injury scare.

With 12:15 left and the Friars up four, Council missed on a hard drive and fell at the baseline, clutching his calves and slow to get up. Two subsequent Miller put-backs -- he led Rutgers with 17 points off the bench -- knotted the score at 52 with 10:58 left.

The deadlock lasted just 27 seconds, until Batts' hookshot from the lane was scored good on a Jack goaltending. It was Henton's turn next, taking the ball from up top, driving to the right block and adjusting in mid-air to free his left-handed shot for a friendly roll and a four-point lead with 9:37 left.

To the relief of Friars fans, Council returned 12 seconds before Henton's make, and it was his key play that led to the first of two run-outs and a comfortable lead PC would never relinquish.

At the four-minute mark, Rutgers had the ball down three at the four-minute mark, but Council, taking his turn on RU point man Myles Mack, blocked the sophomore's shot, grabbed the carom and fed ahead to Cotton for an emphatic slam.

"It was kind of hot in the gym today," said Council in reference to his cramping. "My legs were sore, but it was just about winning the game, just making plays to help my team win."

Coming out of a Rutgers timeout, Dunn rebounded Judge's miss and fed ahead to Cotton for a reverse layup. It was one of Dunn's five assists -- to just one turnover -- and part of Cotton's game-high 22, the first time he's scored at least 20 since a 24-point game in the Friars' Jan. 22 loss to Pittsburgh.

"He's getting better every game," said Henton of Dunn, who was the beneficiary of the freshman's other second-half assist. "He didn't get a chance to play in the offseason, and that's when freshman build their confidence. He's a great passer. He's a great facilitator."

"He's five to seven weeks into really playing," added Cooley. "I love the way he's progressing, and I think bigger things are ready for him. He just has to continue to play."

Though Rutgers never again had the ball with the chance to tie or lead, the Knights did threaten late, benefiting from a pair of missed free throws by Council with 1:03 to play. Two makes would have stretched the lead to seven, but instead Jerome Seagers made the resultant foul shots from a Cotton infraction to cut the lead to 72-69 with 48.6 seconds left.

Cooley called timeout, unsure whether Rice would foul or play it out. After Council got the ball in bounds to Cotton, Cooley found out -- RU would try for the stop. The Knights wouldn't get it. Despite a Cotton-Fortune high ball screen leading to nothing, Cotton's hand-off to Council led to a streak to the rim and a left-handed finish that salted the game away with 16 seconds left.

"We just made a really good play at the rim, and we wanted to use as much of the shotclock as we could, because we still had the lead," said Cooley. "If we miss it, they still have to make a play, and there's only 12-14 seconds left. You give the best players the ball and get out of the way."

"Cotton couldn't go anywhere," said Council of the possession that ended up clinching PC's first win at Rutgers since March 2009. "He and I gotta make big baskets, gotta step up, and I just had to make the shot."

In brief

Offensive defensive rebounding: Providence's defensive rebounding has been a pleasant surprise this season. The Friars haven't finished outside the bottom quarter of the Big East in defensive rebounding percentage in conference games since 2006-07, Herbert Hill's senior season, but entering the game at Rutgers, PC was fourth.

Rutgers hurt the Friars on the defensive glass though, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds and securing the highest percentage of their own misses since the loss at Marquette. The only other team to do better on the offensive glass vs. the Friars this season was Syracuse in the teams' Jan. 9 matchup in Providence.

"You got to give Rutgers credit -- they did a good job of crashing the boards," said Henton. "They've got big guys -- Wally Judge is big in the paint and Kadeem Jack is down there big. It was hard boxing those guys out."

Pain in the knee: After struggling in PC's last two road games in the midst of reports that he had missed a practice leading up to the Syracuse loss due to a right knee injury first suffered vs. Mississippi State in December, Cotton's 22-point, four-assist performance was a good sign. He indicated post-game that, though he's icing it frequently, adrenaline makes the pain a secondary concern on gamedays.

"Come gametime, we're all energized and we're all souped for the game," he said. "The adrenaline gets the best of me, so I don't feel anything during gametime, which is what matters most."

Bye, bye, Tuesday: The win moved the Friars to within a game of .500 in conference at 7-8 and to 15-12 overall. The loss was Rutgers' ninth in its last 10 games, as the Knights drop to 4-10 in conference. The Friars have clinched, at worst, the No. 10 seed in the Big East Tournament, which means they won't be playing on Tuesday in the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2009.

"That's all we've talked about the last two days. We felt if we could come on the road and get a win, we solidify ourselves not playing in that Tuesday game," said Cooley. "For three straight years, we've played in that game, and we haven't been very good in that game. For our team to accomplish what they've accomplished -- for starting the season as horrific as we've started -- I'm proud of the growth of our program and the leadership of our players."

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