Friars Gain Shelter From The Storm

At the beginning of March, the Friars found themselves in a position they hadn't been in since 2009 – the position to control their own postseason fate. After a win on the road over Rutgers, Providence has found itself in a position to play itself onto the inside of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

That's a tall order, and Saturday night's opponent was in the same position. The St. John's Red Storm was looking for an NCAA bid of their own, but the Friars had different plans and overcame the Johnnies, 62-59.

Weather the Storm: St. John's didn't go down silently. They opened against the Friars with a 6-0 run, and after the Friars caught up on two occasions within the first five minutes, the Red Storm held onto a lead for the remainder of the first half. The Friars were able to pull within a single possession on several occasions, but each time the Red Storm were able to answer the basket, or the Friars failed to convert on a shot or free throw.

St. John's was able to obtain their largest lead of the game during this 15 minute stretch (up by eight with 5:49 remaining) but failed to extend their lead to double digits just as Providence failed to overcome the hump. The Friars came as close as a single point four times during this period, and finished off the half behind the Johnnies, 26-27.

The second half turned into a rock fight, as both teams would trade leads. Providence finally saw their first lead of the game 54 seconds into the first half after a layup by Vincent Council put PC ahead, 29-28, but St. John's immediately answered with a layup by Sir'Dominic Pointer. There were a total of 11 lead changes and four tied scores in the second half. From the 8:28 minute mark to the 3:46 mark there was a total of seven lead changes and the score was tied up twice.

The Friars were able to close out the remaining 3:46 of the game by keeping the Red Storm to a single basket, which helped result in the win.

(Lack of) Offensive Firepower: For the second game in a row the Friars continued their early offensive struggles. It took a Vincent Council three point field goal to get the offense started, but that was almost two and a half minutes into the start of the game – by then the Friars had already failed to convert on five of their shots. For the first half the Friars only connected on 11 of 32 attempts, good for 34.4%. For the game the Friars only hit 22 of 59 shots, while the Johnnies actually hit more field goals by going 25 of 68 (36.8%).

This trend is becoming more common for Providence. Whether it's lack of getting into rhythm right away, or they just respond well to pressure (or both) the Friars seem to struggle from the field early on. In the game against Rutgers it wasn't until Cotton sparked a 19-0 run with a three point field goal in the remaining four minutes that the Friars got something going, and against the Red Storm the Friars again struggled to hit open threes or finish at the rim.

Winning the Providence Way: Providence won the game with one of the most curious stats, as mentioned above – they won by hitting less shots than St. John's did. There are three reasons the Friars were able to win this game – defensive prowess, three point field goals, and rebounding.

It's become a rule of thumb with this team that if the Friars are able to limit a team to scoring under 30 at the half, PC will win the game. Since February this trend has expanded, but since the start of the season the Friars have only lost once when the other team has failed to score more than 30 points by half time (Penn State). In this case the Friars held St. John's to under 30 at the half (27), but also limited St. John's defensively. The Red Storm only shot 36.8%, and was outrebounded by the Friars (47 Providence rebounds to 38 Red Storm boards). Furthermore, the Friars were able to force the hand of the Red Storm by pushing them to shoot 11 three-point shots – arguably the weakest area of the Red Storm offense – and the Johnnies couldn't respond, only hitting one of their 11 attempts.

However, the defense wasn't significant enough to put them past the Red Storm alone. If not for free throws and three point field goals the Friars would have ended up on the shallow end of the scoreboard. Providence converted on seven of 22 three-point attempts, thanks to a late-in-the-game boost from Bryce Cotton, who finished the game 5-14 from beyond the arc. The Friars also took 22 free throw attempts and converted on 50% of them. This stat is something Ed Cooley took responsibility for in the press conference after the game, citing himself as the free throw coach this past week, and saying he needs to do better with his team in that area. He was also surprised that the shooting was so poor from the charity stripe, saying that the team did look good and confident in practice when stepping up to the line.

Mr. Clutch: Bryce Cotton's recent scoring trends have evolved from the beginning of the season. During the nonconference portion of the Friars schedule, Cotton would be consistent in his scoring throughout the game. Times have changed however, and Cotton is now scoring the same amount but only in "crunch time" moments. In the game against Rutgers it was the 19-0 run he started, and in this game Cotton scored only five points in the first half, but finished the game with 24 total points, leading the team.

Cotton said in the press conference it wasn't an issue of confidence, but rather an issue of finding his touch. He gave praise to his coaches and teammates, saying that they kept him encouraged and didn't doubt him when he hit his slump early on in the game. This allowed him to get him the looks he needed, and the shots began falling for him by the end of the game.

High Esteem: After the game St. John's head coach was focused less on his own team's story and one that he called the real story of the game. That story was Ed Cooley's coaching performance in Providence.

During this time Lavin sang the praises of Cooley and Providence, saying that other than Georgetown there's no hotter team in their conference, and that Cooley has brought the Friar program back from the dead, "Lazarus style."

Lavin went on to say that Cooley should be in high consideration for coach of the year, both conference wise and even nationally. For Lavin to recognize the progress that Cooley and Providence has made in a respectful way is another positive reassurance for Friar fans everywhere, and adds momentum for the Friars as they continue through the rest of the season and prepare to enter a new league next year.

The Friars return to action for their final home game this Tuesday at 9:00 against Seton Hall. If the Friars beat the Hall they will have guaranteed at least a .500 record in conference play for the first time since 2009, and will be one step closer to dancing their way inside of the NCAA bubble or getting a strong NIT seeding.

Scout Friars Top Stories