Rattled Friars Overtaken by Xavier

A visit to Xavier’s Cintas Center was definitely not what the doctor ordered for Providence College’s basketball team. In fact, the Friars’ 78-69 loss can be pinpointed to Ed Cooley leaving the arena feeling under the weather.

Xavier fought back from a 40-34 halftime deficit to blitz Providence, 78-69, with a torrid second half, which coincided with Ed Cooley walking to the locker room just a minute into the second half, feeling ill. The Friars, up six at the point of Cooley’s departure, were clearly rattled and quickly fell victim to a 16-2 Musketeer run. Andre LaFleur, assisted by Bob Simon, took control of the PC bench, but had no answers for Xavier’s push.

FIRST HALF BLISS: With Cooley on the sideline, the first half was a back-and-forth battle that featured multiple lead changes and hot shooting. The Friars executed Cooley’s game plan to perfection, limiting Xavier’s three point looks and dominating on the glass. A three pointer by the Big East’s leading freshman scorer, Trevon Bluiett, gave Xavier a 35-34 lead, but PC closed out the last two minutes of the half with a 7-0 run that featured two free throws by LaDontae Henton and a three pointer by Jalen Lindsey and three missed threes by Xavier. At this point, things were looking PC’s way.

SECOND HALF WOES: As Cooley made his way to the locker room, Ben Bentil hit two free throws for a Friar 8 point lead, but fortunes changed at the 18-minute mark as Providence lost all discipline on both ends of the floor. Myles Davis drained two consecutive wide open threes, leading to a Friar timeout. Two more open threes, by Bluiett, off a missed Bentil free throw, and Davis, after a mised Bentil three, were followed by a missed Kris Dunn scoop shot and a Jalen Reynolds dunk. The Muskies led 50-44 and the roof was about to blow off the Cintas Center.

A Henton three stemmed the tide, but Xavier’s lead reached 10, at 57-47, when Reynolds dunked again and completed a three-point play. However, Providence is nothing if not resilient. As they did against Georgetown, the Friars fought back.

WEATHERING THE STORM: It took PC about 7 minutes to settle themselves back down and find a groove again after Cooley’s departure, but they began to fight back after the 12-minute media timeout. A Henton lane jumper, a Dunn layup and three pointer and a Bentil layup off a Henton miss pulled back to within 60-58. Layups by Henton and Bentil tied the score at 64-all with 6:33 to play but, unlike at Georgetown, this time PC couldn’t get over the hump, despite several opportunities.

The Friars froze at 64 points and ceded a 10-0 run by Xavier over the next three minutes. A turnover by Junior Lomomba and two by Dunn put PC in the hole as Xavier took advantage with a layup by Reynolds and a three point play and three pointer by J.P. Macura. As Xavier spurted to a 74-64 lead, Providence wasn’t even getting a shot off.

ONE LAST HOPE: PC had one last gasp. Henton drilled a three with 2:48 left and a Dunn steal led to two Henton free throws. Now it was 74-69 with 1:45 to play. When Lindsey stripped Myles Davis of the ball, he fired ahead to Dunn, who raced to the basket guarded by Dee Davis. With a chance to cut the lead to 3, Dunn attempted to change direction and Davis picked his pocket cleanly. Two Myles Davis free throws sealed the much-needed victory for Xavier.

THE ZONE DILEMMA: As in the game in Providence, when Xavier switched to a 1-3-1 zone in the second half, the Friars struggled. During the period when PC lost an 8 point lead and fell behind by 6, the Friars missed shot after shot. PC was 0-8 and 1-12 from the field before beginning to solve the defense. That enabled Xavier to score without opposition and find a groove of their own.

WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE: Against Providence at the Dunk, Xavier mounted its own second half comeback behind an extremely effective high-low game utilizing Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds. Stainbrook found Reynolds time and again for easy back door layups and dunks that PC had issues defending. That look never materialized in this game, as Stainbrook again had foul trouble and was fairly ineffective, going scoreless and contributing just 5 rebounds. Reynolds, however, hurt PC inside with a game high 19 points, on 9-10 shooting and 7 rebounds.

BENCH BROTHERS: Xavier’s bench came up big, outscoring PC’s bench 53-14. A lot of that was Reynolds, but Bluiett also contributed 19 points and proved tough to handle in the second half.

AFTER A GOOD START: Xavier warmed up in the second half from the perimeter and ended 8-22 on threes. That was probably about 3 or 4 more threes than Cooley would have liked. Myles Davis (4-5) and Bluiett (3-7) were particularly troublesome. Also, the rebounding evened out, at 30-30 after PC dominated early.

FRIAR NUMBERS: LaDontae Henton had a solid game, scoring 24 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, but shot just 9-21 and 2-7 on threes. Kris Dunn had just 11 points on 4-9 shooting. He did have 8 assists but also 6 turnovers as he struggled in the last two minutes of the game. Ben Bentil had his second straight strong game, with 16 points and 6 boards and Jalen Lindsey nailed two threes. Carson Desrosiers didn’t make much of an impact, with 4 points and no blocks. For Xavier, Dee Davis scored just 4 points but had a whopping 15 assists.

WORRYING: After Ed Cooley left the bench, it was reported that he exited the building and headed to a local hospital. He left with an apparent stomach ailment and complaining of breathing issues. Here’s hoping that this isn’t anything serious.

NEXT UP: Pressures on a bit now for the 17-7 (7-4) Friars as they return to the Dunk for a Wednesday meeting with Big East leader Villanova. The game will tip at 8 p.m.

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