When you have aspirations of an NCAA Tournament appearance, late season three game losing streaks are not a recipe for success. Enter a home game against the Big East cellar dwelling DePaul Blue Demons. The Chicagoins entered the game 10-15 and 2-10 in the league, were missing star senior Cleveland Melvin and in general disarray.
All of these factors worked perfectly in Providence College's favor. The Friars, energized by being home and in front of 12,069 fans, came out smoking hot from the opening tip, opening up leads of 16-4 and 23-7 before DePaul began to even feel as though they were in the game. Providence hit 10 of their first 12 shots and never looked back.
PC built a 49-26 halftime lead in one of their more impressive halves of the season. The Friars shot 64% from the field, 5-7 threes and 12-14 from the charity stripe. Bryce Cotton (15 points) and Josh Fortune (10) were already in double figures at the half, and big men Kadeem Batts, Carson Desrosiers and LaDontae Henton were making their presence felt, both offensively and defensively.
As often happens, teams that build big first half leads sometimes lose focus and intensity. PC's lead peaked at 65-41 before sloppiness and bad shot selection enabled DePaul to creep within 74-60 with 4:34 to play, but a strong finishing kick and a 10-1 run sealed the win for the deserving Friars.
BALANCING ACT: It's been no secret that Providence has been playing the Big East schedule with primarily six players. For the first time this season, all six players hit double figures in scoring, led by Cotton with 22 points, Batts with 15, Henton with 13, Desrosiers with 12 and Fortune and Tyler Harris with 10 apiece. Of the six players, only Harris shot below 50% for the game, at 3-11.
MOVING UP: Speaking of Cotton, during the game he passed Ernie DiGregorio for 8th place on the all-time Friar scoring list. Cotton now has 1,764 career points to Ernie's 1,760. Next up – Bruce "Soup" Campbell at 1,809.
ON THE HOT SEAT: DePaul's Oliver Purnell is feeling the heat in Chicago. Recent media reports indicate that his job may not be secure. Over four years, Purnell has won 8 Big East games. There is talent and size on the roster but this is not a team that plays well together, and Purnell has had trouble keeping the top ChiTown talent home in what is a huge media market.
SOME HELP, PLEASE: In one of the few times all season, PC's bench scored as many points against DePaul as the opponent's bench – 14-14. Of course, Desrosiers contributed 12 of the bench's 14 points. The other two points came on a late Brice Kofane layup.
STATUS QUO: Providence has used the same starting lineup for each of their 26 games so far this season – Cotton, Fortune, Batts, Henton and Harris. If the Friars use this lineup for the rest of the season, it will be the first time since Providence started tracking starters in 1979 that one starting lineup was used for an entire season.
PLAY OF THE GAME: With 7:33 remaining in the first half, Bryce Cotton dribbled the ball at the top of the key. On a pick and roll, Carson Desrosiers broke to the basket and Cotton threaded a low bounce pass through traffic to Desrosiers, who caught it cleanly and dunked the ball with authority. The basket made it 30-17 and sparked PC's run to halftime.
COMING UP: The Top 10 Villanova Wildcats roll into Providence on Tuesday night looking to hold onto first place in the Big East and cement a high NCAA seed. PC, meanwhile, will be looking for a signature win and for revenge for the 91-61 drubbing they suffered in Philadelphia. This one should be fun.
Friars Roll Over DePaul, 84-61
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