Signature Win Eludes Providence

Providence College ended the non-conference portion of its schedule at 10-3 after falling in a last-second, overtime, heartbreaker to the University of Massachusetts, 69-67. This marks the second straight season that PC has fallen by two in the last second to UMass.

So close.

Just over one second and a lucky bounce rebound were all that stood between Providence College and its first signature out of conference win of the 2013-14 season.

As one looks back over the non-conference schedule, PC really had three opportunities for signature wins, the kinds of statement wins that live long beyond November or December and into March. First, the championship game of the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands against ACC foe Maryland. In that game, the Friars were hamstrung by the loss of Kris Dunn and fell to the Terrapins in a hard=fought game, 56-52.

Next, the Friars laced them up against third-ranked Kentucky in Brooklyn. Providence, though short-handed, fought valiantly and trailed by just four points at the half, but the superior depth and athleticism of the Wildcats prevailed, 79-65.

The final chance came Saturday against 23rd ranked Massachusetts in Amherst. UMass had piled up an impressive out of conference resume, with a slew of wins against top competition and ranked second in the nation in RPI.

The stars seemed to align for the Friars. They battled UMass evenly for most of the game. UMass' star, Chaz Williams, was a mere mortal on this day, scoring 10 points on 3-11 shooting and fouled out late in regulation. And the hosts didn't shoot very well, hitting just 39% for the game.

Meanwhile, Bryce Cotton donned his own Superman cape and scored on a driving layup to force overtime and then nailed a three pointer with 36 seconds in overtime left to knot the score at 67-all.

The problem for Providence is that Cotton's three merely tied the game rather than put PC up by a couple, as it likely should have. Needing a stop, Trey Davis missed a long jumper but the rim rebound bounced directly to Derrick Gordon, who quickly muscled up a five footer that found the mark for the win.

The reason that Cotton's three only tied the score is that PC's normally deadly free throw shooting failed during overtime. Providence came into the game leading the nation in free throw shooting, at 81%, and hit a respectable 17-22 for the game – compared to UMass' 9-18 effort from the line – but missed three big ones in overtime. Kadeem Batts, Josh Fortune and Cotton all missed one of two down the stretch and that put additional pressure on the Friars.

Rebounding also came into play. UMass outrebounded PC, 45-36 and 15-8 on the offensive glass. But the two biggest offensive boards also came in overtime. First, up 65-64, Maxie Esho jumped over Tyler Harris for a Gordon miss and then scored on a layup to put UMass up three and then after Cotton's tying three, Gordon's rebound and hoop off of Davis' miss sealed the win, and PC's seventh loss in their last 8 overtime games, dating back to 2009.

After the game, LaDontae Henton said, "We have to learn how to finish games. Mainly that's rebounding and not letting them get offensive boards." But finishing games had not been a problem for the Friars this season. Providence had eked out a number of wins by performing well down the stretch. In fact, in games decided by five points or less, coming into UMass, PC had a 4-1 record, holding off Boston College by four in overtime, Brown by four, URI by one and Yale by two, while losing by four to Maryland.

But now for the good news.

At 10-3, Big East play begins on New Year's Eve with a home game against Seton Hall. PC's performance against UMass proved that there is no one left on their schedule in league play who they can't match up with and beat, warts and all. The Friars may lack depth in the backcourt, may experience games where their frontcourt isn't as dominating as it should be, and may not be a top level shooting team, but they play hard, never give up, make big plays, shoot free throws well and bother people just enough on defense that they should keep themselves in every game and put themselves in position to win.

The problem right now is there are no signature wins and the Big East does not offer as many opportunities for those as it used to. But there are some and the Friars need to break through on those. Five of the first 7 Big East games are at home and protecting the home court is a must. That won't be easy with Georgetown, Butler, Creighton among those first five games, but a good start to league play could start the Friars on a march towards March.

Close won't cut it going forward.

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