Now that’s more like it. Balanced scoring, players with names other than Dunn and Bentil contributing, a solid effort on the glass… and a home win. With the win, Providence was able to creep back to .500 in the league and keep its NCAA hopes firmly on the right side of any bubble talk.
February had been a miserable month for the Friars in so many ways. “It’s been our worst month since we’ve been at Providence College,” said Ed Cooley. “We were very fragile coming into this game. Our confidence was shot. All I put on the board was to play with a purpose and more importantly, have fun. We were a team that did not look like it was having fun.”
Cooley looked exhausted but relieved at the post-game press conference. “We really thought that this was going to be our best shooting team since we’ve been here,” he said. “It goes to show you what we know. Turns out it our worst shooting team. Today was a day when we were the shooting team I thought we’d be. I hope Wednesday night is another one of the days.” PC shot 49 percent for the game, tying their Big East best, and shot a season-best 61 percent in the second half.
The Friars were fortunate to survive a game in which Kris Dunn was a mere shell of himself. Dunn played sparingly, especially in the first half and looked very non-aggressive on the court. Gone was his usual smile and pre-game bounce. He contributed 2 points and 4 assists with 3 turnovers. “I don’t know what it is, a virus, a stomach bug, but I don’t think this time of year anyone’s 100 percent, to be honest,” Cooley said. “Somebody’s going to have the sniffles, somebody didn’t do good on a test. If they’re not physically hurt, they’re emotionally struggling with something.”
This was a game, though, where others stepped up, finally. Although PC got off to another incredibly slow start, missing their first 7 shots and not getting on the board until Ben Bentil connected on two free throws at the 16:35 mark, the Friars were fortunate to be playing a 9-19 (3-13 in the Big East) DePaul team, who also struggled to get going. Led by Kyron Cartwright, who started in place of Dunn, PC broke in front and led 39-33 at the half, sparked by Bentil’s 12 points and Cartwright’s 10.
The second saw the Friars turn up the pressure on offense, building a 60-47 lead after a Ryan Fazekas three-pointer. Jalen Lindsey stepped up and nailed a three-pointer, was fouled and sank the free throw to push the lead to 69-52. Over the final 8 minutes, DePaul never threatened and the lead peaked at 84-62 after two straight Rodney Bullock threes with 1:25 to play.
Asked about his decision to start Cartwright, Cooley responded, “I decided to start Kyron on the bus ride home Thursday night. Kyron came into the huddle the other day and was as demonstrative and passionate as we’ve ever seen him. I’m really proud of him. You all don’t see the growth he’s had. When you’re in those huddles and your team is struggling, Kyron’s voice was commanding. When you’re a leader, you don’t ask. You command.”
For the Friars, Bentil poured in 28 points on 9-15 shooting, along with 8 boards. Mixed in were three-pointers, shots at the rim and a ridiculous, turn-around fall-away baseline 15-footer. Cartwright had a career-high 16 points, 8 assists and 0 turnovers, Lindsey scored 14, Bullock 10 and Fazekas 6. PC hit 27-30 free throws, led by Cartwright’s 8-9 and Bentil’s 9-9. And PC outrebounded the Demons, 33-28. Freshman Eli Cain was the major thorn for DePaul, scoring 22 with 4 threes, while Darrick Wood had 15, including a first-half buzzer-beater three, and Billy Garrett had a quiet 10.
The win was the program’s 1,400th of all-time and secured the 20th win of the season for the third straight year, the first time that’s been accomplished since 1976-78. When asked about the significance of the 20th win, Cooley replied, “That’s nice but I really don’t think about it. I’m in a Creighton state of mind. All I care about now is getting number 21. Actually, I care about getting (Big East) win number 9. Nine is more important than 21.”
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Indeed, PC closes out it’s home regular season on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. at the Dunk against Creighton in a Senior Night extravaganza.