Two teams were picked to battle for the America East championship this season. Vermont was the clear-cut choice while New Hampshire slotted in at number two in most preseason polls. Both appeared on Providence’s schedule and the Friars dispatched of both, routing Vermont in the season-opener, 80-58, and New Hampshire on Wednesday evening, by a 76-62 count.
On paper, New Hampshire seemed to be the tougher foe. A junior and senior dominated team, the Wildcats had already beaten Temple and Winthrop and had some size to boot. But after hanging with PC early, the Cats wilted under a career-high 36-point blitz by Rodney Bullock and were never able to crawl back into the game.
Sure, New Hampshire hung around. But that was more the Friars’ doing than the Wildcats. PC ended the first half on a tear, building a 39-23 halftime lead, and built on that during the first part of the second half. The lead peaked at 23 points with 15 minutes to play, and PC led 53-32 before going cold and allowing a 9-0 UNH run. Over four-plus minutes, the Friars failed to score, as New Hampshire crept back to within 11 points. Even with five minutes to play, New Hampshire was within striking distance until key baskets by Bullock, Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey, coupled with an untimely technical on coach Tom Herrion, sealed the win.
UNH’s ability to hang around hinged on several factors: PC got extremely sloppy on offense and settled for bad shots; Wildcat shooters Jaleen Smith, David Watkins and Daniel Dion shook free for uncontested three-pointers and the Friars simply took their feet off the gas pedal. Which can be a natural tendency when you build an early 20-point lead. However, neither of the Wildcats’ frontcourt stars, 6’9 Iba Camara and 6’7 Tanner Leissner, hurt the Friars. Camara spent the game in foul trouble and fouled out with just 10 points and Leissner never asserted himself, finishing 2-6 for 7 points.
As Providence prepares for it’s annual war with Rhode Island, this game served more as an evaluation point for the coaching staff after splitting two tough games in Destin, Florida, against Memphis and Virginia. With that in mind, let’s examine the good and the bad from the New Hampshire game.
At the top of any good list, you’d find Rodney Bullock. Bullock poured in 19 first half points and then added 17 more in the second half. He shot 12-21, including 5-8 from three and was absolutely feeling it. The beauty of Bullock, when he’s on, is that he can operate inside or out, drilling threes in the face of defenders or driving to the hoop, throwing the ball against the glass and catching it for a layup. Ed Cooley even chose to run the offense through Bullock at times. Not much more to say here.
Jalen Lindsey had another solid game, posting 11 points, 5 boards, 2 blocks and 3 assists. He defended at a high level and shot well for the second straight game, hitting 4-5, including 3-4 threes. Good signs all-around.
Kyron Cartwright had a mixed bag type of game. The feisty point guard contributed 12 points and turned the ball over just once but his 4 assists was low for him and he missed several open teammates for passes. Cartwright is, without question, PC’s best ballhandler, but he still learning to make the right decisions on the break at times.
One thing that might be keeping me up nights if I were Ed Cooley and staff is the lack of top secondary ballhandlers. Maliek White had a tough go of it, turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions during PC’s scoring drought in the second half and that earned him a seat on the bench as Cooley rushed Cartwright back in. White is not yet a facilitator and will take time learning to be a Big East-caliber point guard and that leaves the Friars vulnerable to teams that are deep with talented guards.
Some help with ballhandling might come from a combination of Isaiah Jackson, Alpha Diallo and Drew Edwards. All were solid against New Hampshire, although none is a true playmaker. Jackson was scoreless but had 5 boards and 2 blocks and is beginning to look more comfortable on the floor. Diallo snuck inside for a reverse layup and the staff put the ball in his hands for several possessions. And Edwards knocked down a three and looks confident with the ball as he works himself back into playing shape.
Up front, Kalif Young continues to develop, with a basket, 3 boards and a block and he impresses with his activity, if not his production, at this point. Emmitt Holt had a struggle of a game, with 5 points on 2-8 shooting and, after hitting one three, he forced several shots during the Friars’ drought. In addition, like Camara, Holt spent much of the game in foul trouble. Assuming that he’s recovered from his hamstring injury, PC will need much more consistency from him to be effective. Then, there’s Ryan Fazekas. In 18 minutes, Fazekas scored 2 points, both on free throws. From the field, he was 0-2, both on missed threes. On the season, Fazekas is shooting 10-25 (.400) from three. Which is pretty good. Thing is, Cooley wants him to shoot more. A lot more. And the thing with that is, players have to get him the ball when he’s open AND he has to do a better job of moving to get open. Because, if Ryan isn’t knocking down threes, he’s not helping the team, especially on defense, where he’s not strong enough to battle bigger players and not quick enough to stay in front of smaller players. So, expect the quantity of Fazekas’ attempts to go up.
Oh, and PC was outrebounded, 32-31, but their press was effective and New Hampshire’s 17 turnovers offset the glass work.
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The Friars return to action on Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. tip against archrival Rhode Island in what should be a packed, raucous Dunk.