One of the only blemishes on Ed Cooley’s record entering the 2015-16 season was his 2-2 career mark against Brown, with losses in two of the last three years. The reasons for those losses weren’t particularly complex. The more talented Friars ran into two teams that a. had hot three point shooting nights, and b. far outmatched the intensity level on the part of the PC teams.
In other words, Brown circles this game on its schedule every year. Providence does not.
On this night, though, the Friars matched Brown’s intensity. And their three-point shooting to rack up an easy 94-73 win. The Friars shot 65 percent in the second half and knocked down 12 threes on the way to their best shooting performance of the young season.
“I probably have the worst winning percentage of any coach in Providence history against Brown,” said Cooley. “We’ve been guilty of maybe overlooking this game and not being up for it. But we were going to be up tonight.”
PC built a 45-35 lead in a foul-filled first half. Ben Bentil, Rodney Bullock, Quadree Smith and Jalen Lindsey all picked up two fouls and spent time on the bench, while Cedric Kuakumensah, Steven Spieth and Corey Daugherty notched two fouls for Brown. But, with Ryan Fazekas and Junior Lomomba knocking down a pair of threes each. PC was able to overcome another slow offensive start by Kris Dunn and sprint away from the Bruins.
Two thirds of the half had passed and Dunn was 0-2 from the field. He was making his presence felt in other ways, though, racking up rebounds, assists and steals. “I asked Kris about it,” said Cooley. “And he said he was happy with the way the other guys were playing and was content to get them the ball.”
Although Brown kept battling, the Friars pulled steadily away in the second half. The Friars built a 64-45 lead when Dunn stole the ball and, out in front of the field, made an ill-advised decision to throw the ball off the backboard for a dunk attempt. The ball came off the backboard at an awkward angle and Tavon Blackmon of Brown recovered. That seemed to fire up the Bears as they ripped off 7 points to close to within 64-52, but that was as close as they would get. A layup by Bullock and consecutive three-point bombs by Fazekas pushed the lead back to 20 and Brown was done.
For the Friars, Jalen Lindsey had perhaps his finest overall game. Lindsey scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting, including 2-3 threes and pulled down 5 boards. He also had several beautiful passes, drove to the basket and played solid defense. The only thing that stopped him from putting up even bigger numbers was foul trouble.
PC battled foul trouble all night, especially in the frontcourt. Bentil played just 14 minutes and scored 7 points, as he struggled with Kuakumensah and freshman Travis Fuller. With PC’s foul trouble, walk-on Tom Planek played extended minutes for the first time in his career.
“We wanted to play inside-out and use our girth a little in this game,” Cooley said. “This was one of the few times where we felt we had a size advantage. We also wanted to avoid taking quick shots, which we really worked on in practice, not taking the first available shot. I think that really helped our shooting.” PC hit 12-27 threes, compared to Brown’s 10-29.
“For about the fourth year in a row, Brown hit 10 threes against us. That’s what they do,” Cooley remarked. “But this year, we made our shots.” Indeed, the Friars placed five players in double figures, led by Bullock’s 24 points, along with 10 rebounds. Fazekas had 17 on 5-8 threes, Lindsey had 14, and Dunn and Lomomba (3-3 shooting, 2-2 threes) had 11 each. Dunn did not shoot particularly well again, going 3-9, but contributed 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 6 steals. “That’s a helluva stat line,” said Cooley.
If there was a bugaboo, it was free throw shooting for the second straight game. PC shot 7-16 in the first half and 16-29 for the game and missed several front ends of one-and-ones. That is one area that absolutely needs to be cleaned up if the Friars expect to continue their winning ways when the competition gets tougher.
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Speaking of tougher competition, PC faces a quick turnaround when NJIT visits the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Monday for a 6:30 tip. “NJIT is really good,” said Cooley. “Our fans see only the name on the jersey and figure ‘Who’s NJIT?’ But they played Kentucky tough for the first half and then just got worn down. Then they go to South Florida and get a great win. Then they win their last two games by 14-plus. They are a senior-laden team. We scheduled this game for RPI purposes and for getting to March because they’re a team that has a chance to go to the tournament. That might end up being a mistake because they are really good. We are going to really need our fans on Monday, more than we did for our first game. They will definitely come to hoop.”