The Friars brushed aside all talk about how tough an opening game opponent Vermont was going to be and swept past the Catamounts, 80-58. In fact, PC’s performance belied its youth and inexperience in many ways.
At times, the Friars looked lost on offense – in the wrong spots, out of sync – but that’s to be expected with a young team. And at times, it had a lot to do with the lineup on the floor. There’s a lot of mixing and matching early in the season and Ed Cooley quickly recognized that too many newcomers on the court together was not a recipe for productive offense.
There were also times when Vermont took advantage of mismatches on defense. Dre Wills quickly recognized when he had the bigger Ryan Fazekas guarding him and had no trouble getting past to the basket. Payton Henson, a mobile inside-out forward, also gave PC problems as he scored 21 on three-pointers and drives to the hoop. But the offensive and defensive struggles were minimized and this was a night when the Friars dominated.
PC led by a 34-28 count at halftime but played most of the second half with a double-digit lead, limiting a very good three-point shooting team to just 5-20 from the arc. Meanwhile, one of the big concerns for this season for Providence was set aside, at least on this night, as the Friars shot 49 percent for the game and 62 percent in the second half, including 9-23 threes.
Without question, the player of the game was junior Emmitt Holt. “We brought Emmitt here to be a stud,” said Cooley, and so far, he is looking the part. Against Vermont, Holt scored 22 points, had 5 boards and 3 blocks. He is very efficient around the basket (7-8 on non-three attempts), scoring inside on a variety of moves and can step out and shoot the three, as well. What separates Holt is his motor and long arms. He goes non-stop and keeps a lot of plays alive. He’s not a tall 6’7 – in fact, there are several Friars who are listed at his height or shorter but appear taller, but he plays bigger than his size.
It was nice to see Ryan Fazekas, who was in the starting lineup, drill a few threes. He scored 11 points on 3-6 from downtown. Seeing the ball go through the basket will only help his confidence and he remains a vital offensive threat for this team. What will limit him is his quickness on defense and his strength. Those are areas that must improve in order for him to play effective minutes against top-level, athletic teams.
Few college basketball point guards do a better job protecting the ball than Kyron Cartwright. Coming into this season, he boasted a superb assist-to-turnover ratio. Against the Cats, he registered 12 assists and only 2 turnovers, remarkable considering the pace he plays at. He’s not a flashy passer but he has great vision and last night, did a great job asserting himself and getting the ball to the right player in the right spot. Shooting will be what determines whether he takes the next step. He scored 9 points on 3-7 shooting and while effective on floaters, he is struggling on his deep shot.
As the season progresses, one player to watch will be Rodney Bullock. While he scored 18 points and knocked down 3-4 threes against Vermont, Bullock has a frustrating tendency to float at times and disappear for long stretches. He was beaten on defense on numerous occasions and seems to lose focus, which is a shame, because he has the potential to be the best player on the court. Disinterest on defense will get you a quick seat on the bench, though.
The polar opposite of disinterest on defense is Jalen Lindsey. Cooley loves his defense and toughness and he is quickly making his mark as a shutdown defender. While his offense remains spotty – Lindsey had 6 points and 2 rebounds on 2-4 shooting, all in the first half – he did drill two threes and with his ability to guard the 2,3 or 4 positions, he is rounding into a real leader for this young team.
Once again, Isaiah Jackson was quiet. Jackson played solid defense but seems hesitant to assert himself in any way on offense. He attempted just one shot (miss) and scored two points from the free throw line. He did grab 6 boards, so he was active on the defensive glass but thus far, he hasn’t shown the offensive ability that he flashed as a freshman at George Mason. It may be that, as a newcomer, he is deferring on offense, but he is also an experienced newcomer, and needs to be more assertive.
The true freshmen are, well, freshmen. Meaning that they show flashes of what they will be and also have lapses. Maliek White looked steady with the ball and unafraid of the bright lights. He needs work on defense but has a solid body and can shoot. He saw time spelling Cartwright but also played alongside Kyron at times. Kalif Young gives PC much needed size in the middle. A true center, he has good hands and a soft touch and can play with his back to the basket. Young misfired on a few short attempts as he backed his man down and then turned to fire, but he is a solid rebounder and grabbed 5 boards. Lots of room for growth in his game. Alpha Diallo played just 11 minutes and scored 6 points on two layups. He’s sneaky around the rim and at this point, more effective in an open court. Against Vermont, it was clear that Diallo was not high in the rotation.
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The Friars return to action on Thursday as they travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.