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Entering the contest, all of the health-related focus was on Boston College. The Eagles were forced to cancel practice on Monday after 8 players came down with norovirus after eating at a local Chipotles near campus on Saturday. The game against Providence on Wednesday appeared to be in jeopardy until the players returned to practice on Tuesday. In addition, Eli Carter, the fifth year transfer point guard from Rutgers and Miami, was suffering from an injured ankle that had caused him to miss the previous game.
But all of the Eagles were present and accounted for on Wednesday evening, including Carter. The problems seemed to be on the 15th ranked Friars’ side. Freshman Ryan Fazekas was back on campus and the word was that he was battling a flu-like bug, although his father tweeted that his son had mono and was expected to miss several weeks. His place in the starting lineup was taken by Jalen Lindsey.
When the game did start, the Friars got off to a roaring start, led by Ben Bentil. PC raced out to a 21-4 lead halfway through the half behind a variety of layups, baby hooks and drives to the basket by their emerging star forward. Seven-foot senior Dennis Clifford, who seems to have been playing for BC since the Reagan administration, was helpless to stop Bentil inside and Bentil absolutely dominated the game with 16 points and 8 rebounds for 16 minutes.
Two straight Carter threes seemed to wake Boston College up, but Providence remained firmly in control and led 34-21 with 1:48 left when Bentil missed a short pop and then came down on an Eagle’s foot and rolled his ankle. He stayed down near center court and when helped up, made a beeline for the locker room, never a good sign. Ed Cooley was clearly frustrated by the injury, but PC went to half leading 37-23. Lost in the flow of the game and the concern for Bentil was the fact that Kris Dunn had subbed out with 2:17 to go and hadn’t returned.
When the teams returned to the court to warm up for the second half, Bentil and Dunn were noticeably absent. Word quickly arrived that Dunn had gotten sick in the locker room at the end of the first half and wouldn’t be returning. Now the Friars were three starters down, including their two top players and scorers and the second half would be about hanging on.
With a starting lineup of Lindsey, Kyron Cartwright, Junior Lomomba, Rodney Bullock and Quadree Smith, ballhandling and scoring would surely be issues. “We had never even seen this lineup together in practice,” said Cooley.
In fact, the first nine minutes of the second half were disastrous for Providence. BC turned the pressure up on Cartwright and he turned the ball over 5 times. He wasn’t alone. PC looked rattled and unsettled and were forcing shots and passes that missed badly. Through the first 8 minutes, PC had scored just 4 points on two baskets by Rodney Bullock. Meanwhile, BC wasn’t lighting the building on fire either, as PC clamped down on defense, but was scoring enough to cut the lead to 43-39 with 11:15 to play after a drive and layup by Carter. It was then that Bullock went to work.
The slithery sophomore hit a free throw and snuck inside for two sweet reverse layups and PC led 48-41. Bullock had scored the Friars’ first 11 points of the half and then Drew Edwards grabbed a rebound off a Bullock block and was fouled and calmly drained both free throws. Clifford answered with a layup over Bullock, but after a Lindsey turnover, Clifford was stripped of the ball by Cartwright as he attempted a second inside hoop and Cartwright nailed two free throws after the ensuing foul.
When Carter missed a jumper, a flurry of rebounds led to another Bullock layup and the Eagles were coming unraveled. After yet another Bullock layup, Clifford hit a short jumper to draw BC within 56-47 but with 2:52 to play, Lindsey hit a dagger corner three and the Friars played out the final three minutes with a double digit lead.
“This was a culture win,” said Cooley. “In the past, we would have folded. This might have been our best win of the season. I know people will say Arizona, Illinois, the University of Rhode Island, but this one might be the best.”
Key contributors were everywhere for PC. Quadree Smith and Drew Edwards gave tremendous energy and valuable minutes, especially Smith, who was 6-6 from the free throw line, in the first half and Edwards, who played 14 second half minutes and played tough defense along with 3 rebounds. Junior Lomomba was a solid glue player, with 4 points and 4 boards in 34 minutes of gritty defense and lent a calming effect to his younger teammates. Lindsey hit two late threes and pulled down 9 boards. Cartwright settled down to run the team well in the final ten minutes and had 9 points and 4 assists.
The Friars pounded BC on the backboards, 46-25, including 15-3 on the offensive glass. After giving up 17 offensive rebounds to URI, PC cleaned up its effort on that part of the glass. Free throw shooting was also key to this win, with PC hitting 21-25 compared to just 7-9 for BC. Three point shooting continues to be a bugaboo for the Friars and the team committed a season-high 16 turnovers, but that was due to Dunn’s absence.
Now, PC will hope for good news regarding Bentil’s ankle, nurse Dunn back to health, and take on Bryant on Saturday at noon at the Dunk.