Friars Ruin Stags Party

Providence College improved to 7-1 on the young season with a 78-69 win over Fairfield. Ordinarily, a 7-1 start would bring unbridled glee to Friartown, but in a season where so much is expected, there is so much to worry about.

The Friars team right now resembles a boat, where every time one leak is patched, a new leak springs. Take, for example, PC's penchant for slow starts. Fans and coaches alike bemoaned slow starts against Vanderbilt, LaSalle and Maryland in the Virgin Islands; starts that put the Friars in deep holes that were difficult, and in Maryland's case, impossible to climb out of.

Well, against Ed Cooley's old team, the Fairfield Stags, that problem appeared to be solved. PC roared out of the gate, building quick leads of 14-4, 20-10 and 39-20, behind effective drives to the basket and timely shooting. However, at that point, the offense stagnated. Why? Fairfield threw three quarter court pressure at Providence, getting one ten-second call, and clearly bothering the Friar ballhandlers. By slowing PC down and getting them into a halfcourt game, the Stags climbed back and closed the half on a 10-1 run. More disturbing was the fact that PC went without a field goal for the final six minutes of the half – and still ended up shooting 54% for the half.

More of the same recurred in the second half. Fairfield continued their surge as the PC offense sputtered and misfired. The lead was trimmed to 44-38 before PC once again pushed the lead to double digits, peaking at 61-42 with nine minutes to play. Over the final nine minutes, Fairfield would cut ten points off the lead and hang around just enough to let the Friars never feel comfortable. Once again, PC closed the second half without a field goal over the final six minutes, but iced the game by parading to the free throw line. In all, Providence made only 19 field goals for the game, shot 27% in the second half and endured three uncomfortably long stretches with no baskets. PC did make 38-45 freebies, which, once again, proved to be the difference in this long, foul-strewn game.

MY KINGDOM FOR A POINT GUARD: When Kris Dunn was not on the floor for pre-game shoot-around, a sense of impending trouble pervaded the Dunk. The sophomore point guard reaggravated his shoulder injury early in the Maryland game and was ineffective for most of that game. With pain still present, Providence's course right now is to rehab as aggressively as possible, but there is no promise that this won't be a recurring theme all season for Dunn. The window for a medical redshirt will close soon and a decision will have to be made: shut Dunn down for the season or get what you can from him whenever you can, understanding that he won't be 100% this season or available for every game.

ANYONE SEE MY JUMP SHOT?: An antidote for PC's long stretches without baskets exists with senior Bryce Cotton. The reigning Big East scoring champion was expected to pick up where he ended last season, raining threes down on opponents. Instead, Cotton's outside jumper has largely been MIA this season. Some have speculated that the additional stress of running the team at point guard for long minutes has sapped his strength and tired him to the point of missing. But, he did the same duty last season with no ill effect on his shot prior to Vincent Council's return. Rather, Cotton's struggles appear to be mechanical in nature. That said, his free throw shooting and steady play has been impressive. His 18 free throws (in 19 attempts) against Fairfield was one key to the win.

TERMINATION DETERMINATION: Speaking of MIA, freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock remain out of action for an undisclosed offense. Cooley would clearly prefer not to talk about them at this point, giving a terse "Status quo" answer when asked about their suspension. Neither has been seen at the Dunk, although fans keep confusing Junior Lomomba with Austin on the bench. Both traveled to the Virgin Islands (although a day later than the team) and were seen in blurry Thanksgiving photos dining at the coach's house, so they are still with the team. Best guess is that they will remain out for the entire first semester and no explanation will be forthcoming. An indication of the seriousness of their predicament will become evident should they not return for Yale on the 17th.

WELCOME TO THE CLUB: LaDontae Henton continued his strong resurgence against Fairfield and became the latest member of PC's 1,000 point club. Henton now has 1,009 points in 75 career games. Kadeem Batts will be the next to enter the exclusive club. He currently has 968 points. And of course, Cotton currently leads the way among active players with 1,360 points.

NEXT UP: What more can be said? Third-ranked Kentucky, for only the second time ever, will match up with Providence, on Sunday night at 8:30 at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. Can the short-handed Friars hang with the vaunted Wildcats? Pull an upset for the ages? Or will Kentucky's superior depth wear PC down? At 6-1, the young Wildcats can be beaten and have struggled from the perimeter, but burly Julius Randle has been unstoppable inside, starting his career with seven double-doubles. The first semester winds down with this highlight match and a tough road game against URI on the 5th.

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