FRIARS BEAT BACK BUTLER

Adversity can strike a team in many ways. It can come in the form of injuries, a crisis of confidence, a stretch of tough games. How a team reacts to adversity often provides a clue as to the direction a season will take.

After dropping a 75-66 stinker to Marquette on the road, Providence was in a dangerous position. They entered historic Hinkle Fieldhouse badly in need of a road win and hoping to gain at least a split on this Midwest trip. Especially with a physical Georgetown team coming to the Dunk on Saturday in what amounts to a protect-your-home-court game.

That PC had opened conference play with a New Year’s Eve win over Creighton was of little consolation. Fans already knew that the Friars could play well and win at home. What was still a question, after losses at Boston College, Kentucky and Marquette, was whether PC could get it done on the road. It took a while to find out.

Things did not look good for the Friars in the first half, despite coming out of the gate by taking an early 12-5 lead. At that point, the Bulldogs clamped down on defense, got physical and Kellen Dunlow began to heat up. Dunlow’s 13 first half points pinned the Friars down by a 36-29 margin at halftime, and PC was getting trampled on the glass and playing with a decided lack of fire.

Having seen enough, Ed Cooley made a halftime decision to go with “the toughest five Friars in the second half. And I was going to stay with them.” LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn, Paschal Chukwu, Ted Bancroft and Junior Lomomba opened the second half and immediately put the clamps on defensively. While this lineup was certainly offensively challenged, the effort on defense and the boards proved the difference. “In the first half physically we were getting manhandled,” Cooley said. “We weren’t playing with a sense of road urgency. In this league you have to play with a purpose and we were walking through the motions.”

The strategy required getting of an offensive push from Henton and Dunn and both responded. Dunn finished with 25 points, while Henton celebrated his birthday with 18 and Butler shot just 20 percent for the half. Still, the Bulldogs led until Chukwu slammed home a Henton miss with 1:26 left for a 59-58 Friar lead.

After a stop, Dunn knocked down a layup off a drive and then a Henton inbounds pass steal resulted in a foul on Dunn, who made both free throws for a 63-58 lead. Butler scored and Alex Barlow stripped Henton for one of his 7 steals and scored to cut the lead to one, and Dunn was fouled and made just one free throw. But Chukwu grabbed a huge offensive rebound and calmly sank both free throws to seal the 66-62 win. With the win, PC improves to 12-4 on the season, 2-1 in the Big East and 18 in the RPI.

The minutes spread is interesting. Ben Bentil played just 9 minutes and had no points or rebounds. Jalen Lindsey hit two shots but saw very little time in the second half, playing 16 minutes in all. Kyron Cartwright played just 5 minutes. Carson Desrosiers hit three early shots but was getting pushed around on the boards and played 15 minutes. Tyler Harris had 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Henton and Dunn racked up 38 minutes apiece, Chukwu had a season high 21 and contributed 9 boards and two blocks, Bancroft played 20 and Lomomba a season high 21. Neither were productive offensively but both played gritty defense.

Dunn had another interesting game, some good, some bad. Along with his 25 points, he contributed 8 rebounds and 6 assists. On the negative side, he racked up another 7 turnovers, shot just 8-14 from the free throw line and unusually, had no steals. But his second half play was vital to the Friars securing the win.

Going forward, the message has been sent: play tough on defense, hit the glass to limit second chance opportunities and get points from wherever possible. Winning ugly is preferable to losing pretty and Cooley has made it clear that he wants a lunchpail approach from this group, at least until other scoring options begin to emerge. With a big and tough Georgetown team coming to town on Saturday at noon, that’s the recipe for Friar success.

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