“Today’s game was a win, and I always appreciate wins,” said Ed Cooley, after the Friars’ 71-54 win over Grambling State. “But it was just okay.”
Just okay pretty well sums up what ended up as a 17-point win. This was a difficult game to watch. The Dunk felt listless as the 6,093 fans who showed up for the noon start showed little energy – which matched Providence’s early torpor.
Noon starts usually have meant little energy. The quick turnaround coming off a tough 72-67 loss to Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday night didn’t help. But the opening game of the Emerald Coast Classic brought a no-name team in Grambling State to the Dunk, a team that had suffered through a difficult season last year and without question, the Friars and the fans were not up for this contest.
Spurred by an aggressive, swarming defense, Grambling kept the game competitive for long stretches. A small team, the Tigers featured a 6’7 junior center, Averyl Ugba, who gave the Friars fits with his defense. He jumped passing lanes and was quick off his feet to block shots. In addition, he managed to get inside of Emmitt Holt consistently for position on rebounds and while he showed poor range, he was very effective scoring around the basket.
A 10-0 run, sparked by a three-pointer by Isaiah Jackson and four points by Holt pushed PC from a 24-22 advantage to a 34-22 lead and Providence ended the half with a 39-26 cushion. Providence led y 49-31 after a Holt layup before a six-minute scoreless stretch midway through the second half enabled Grambling to creep back to within 52-45. The Tigers were still hanging around, just 10 points back, 61-51, with under 5 minutes to play, before three-pointers by Ryan Fazekas and Kyron Cartwright created the space needed for PC to put the game away.
Three games into the season, certain concerns are becoming evident and it’s interesting to look back at the season preview article and compare that to three actual performances.
First, it was generally thought that Providence’s shooting would be a season-long concern. While the Friars have suffered through significant scoreless droughts, especially against Ohio State and Grambling, the shooting has, overall, been good and certainly an improvement over last season. PC shot 52% in the first half and 46% for the game and the Friars have been solid from the foul line.
Where PC has surprised is their improvement from the three-point arc. Against Grambling, PC shot 9-23 (39%) and Jalen Lindsey (10 points), Cartwright, Rodney Bullock (17 points), Maliek White, Fazekas and even Jackson and Holt (18 points) have shown the ability to step out and drain threes. That gives PC a number of options from the perimeter.
What is troubling is what’s been happening inside. Ohio State killed PC inside, outscoring the Friars 42-20 in the paint. That continued as Grambling beat PC inside to a 36-26 tune. A big Ohio State team outrebounded PC, 43-33. A small Tigers team outboarded the Friars, 32-30. PC’s vulnerability inside is becoming evident. Providence simply isn’t big enough to contend with talented frontcourt players, at least from what they’ve shown so far. Ugba consistently beat Holt inside and Holt and Bullock both fell into deep foul trouble in both the Buckeyes game and the Grambling game trying to stop opposing big men.
Kalif Young is big enough but just isn’t quite ready. A talented freshman with plenty of upside, Young needs experience and maturity to battle effectively inside. He’ll be an answer but isn’t an answer now. Meanwhile, Holt and Bullock have both had their moments, but at 6-7, are both a tad undersized to protect the paint and rim. Those answers will arrive next season with Dajour Dickens and Nate Watson, as well as Young’s improvement.
Kyron Cartwright had a weird line in this game, as well. The junior point guard dished for 8 assists and had some beautiful passes, but also forced a few passes badly and had an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers, which contributed greatly to PC’s 16 turnovers (against 17 assists). After turning the ball over just 3 times against Ohio State – a low during Cooley’s tenure – PC shot itself in the foot repeatedly on Saturday and helped to keep Grambling in the game.
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Providence is once again hamstrung by a quick turnaround as they ready for a 6:30 tip on Monday at the Dunk against St. Francis of New York, in the second game of the Emerald City Classic, before taking to the road in Florida against Memphis. Cooley said that the team would watch film and have a light workout on Sunday as they prepared for Monday’s test. A dominating performance by the frontcourt would certainly put some concerns to rest.