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On the same day that Providence moved to number 10 in the latest AP poll – the first time that PC had cracked the top ten during the regular season since January of 1978 – the Friars took on UMass in their final out of conference game. Fears of a possible letdown on the road in a hostile environment proved unwarranted as PC took care of business, 90-66.
The game itself proved to be a cakewalk as the Friars strung together two 45-33 halves and never allowed Massachusetts to threaten. The return of Kris Dunn, who played 24 minutes after missing the past two and a half games with a severe stomach virus, sparked Providence, and especially, Ben Bentil. Bentil scored 16 points in each half on his way to a career-high 32 points on 11-16 shooting and 12 rebounds.
PC rolled out to a 14-5 lead after seven minutes, aided by two Jalen Lindsey three-pointers and the only negative were two fouls by Rodney Bullock that would limit his time. The combination of Dunn and Junior Lomomba strangled Trey Davis and Donte Clark, UMass’ hot-shooting backcourt, who had combined for 70 points in their previous game. It wasn’t until Dunn exited the game with PC up, 32-14, that UMass’ offense began to click. PC continued to score, however, and while the lead was trimmed from 18 points to 12 at the half, the Friars were firmly in control.
The second half saw PC start off hot again, opening a 53-35 lead three minutes in, after a Dunn layup and three-pointer. From there, the Friars cruised, leading 64-43 at the 13 minute mark after a Bullock jumper, and maintaining at least an 18 point lead the rest of the way. Almost everyone got into the act for Providence as Tom Planek hit a layup assisted by Tyree Chambers with a minute left and Ricky Council buried a three for PC’s 90th point.
The Friars were too much inside and outside for UMass. PC crushed UMass on the boards, 42-34 and hit 10-23 threes. PC operated effectively and efficiently on offense, with 28 assists on 34 made baskets. For the game, the Friars shot 49 percent and committed just 7 turnovers. Dunn returned in a big way, notching 14 points on 6-9 shooting, along with 11 assists, 6 rebounds and a steal. Lindsey had one of his best games as a Friar, shooting 6-10, including 3-7 threes, for 15 points and 8 boards and Lomomba contributed 11 points and 6 assists.
After looking understandably shaky against Bryant and Rider without Dunn and with as many as five other Friars suffering from the same stomach bug to one degree or another, PC looked like a top ten team against Massachusetts. The chemistry and efficiency displayed matched their best performances of the season and the Friars have put themselves in outstanding position heading into the Big East season.
After the win against UMass, PC’s RPI stands at 21, with a strength of schedule ranking of 92. The Friars boast a win over a Big Ten foe (Illinois – 131 RPI), a Pac-12 opponent (Arizona –51 RPI) and an ACC team (Boston College). In addition, wins over Rhode Island (89 RPI) on the road and NJIT (97 RPI) look good. RPI loves road and neutral site wins and the Friars have beaten Evansville (85 PRI) and Massachusetts (180 RPI) there. Finally, PC’s only loss comes on a neutral floor to the number one team in the nation, 12-0 Michigan State (5 RPI).
Upcoming Big East games should serve to boost the Friars’ numbers. PC’s next game is on New Year’s Eve, at Butler (13 RPI), which represents a great opportunity for the Friars. Other Big East teams that have accumulated outstanding RPIs are Xavier (1), Villanova (3), and Seton Hall (43).
With no other games on the schedule this week, it will also be interesting to keep an eye on PC’s poll positions next Monday. The Friars were 10th in yesterday’s AP poll and 14th in the coaches’ poll. Depending on losses above them, the upward climb could very well continue.