Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s when regional rivalries meant so much more than they do today, Providence College and the University of Massachusetts met annually in an entertaining series that featured stars like Jimmy Walker, Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes for PC and Julius Erving, Rick Pitino and Al Skinner for UMass. That rivalry, like many others, dissolved when Providence entered the Big East.
For the past four years, however, the Friars and the Minutemen have renewed the festivities and on Saturday, the two ancient rivals staged an exciting back-and-forth drama that hearkened back to the games of long ago. PC emerged with a hard-fought 75-69 win to improve to 8-2 on the season, while a young and talented UMass team slipped to 6-3.
Derek Kellogg’s ninth UMass team invaded the Dunk with as much talent on its roster as Amherst has seen in some time. The visitors were young, for sure, but deep with size upfront, deadeye shooters from the perimeter and depth and athleticism enough to play forty minutes of aggressive, pressure defense.
So it was no surprise when UMass jumped out early to a 16-7 lead before a three-pointer by Emmitt Holt and a Rodney Bullock free throw brought PC back to a 17-all deadlock. UMass spurted again to a 27-23 lead behind Luwayne Pipkins and Zach Lewis threes before the Friars closed the half on a 5-2 mini-run, keyed by a Kalif Young lay-in and a Bullock layup for a 29-28 halftime lead.
In the second half, Bullock poured in 18 of his 26 points to lead the Friars as they extended their intermission lead. Holt’s three and two Bullock buckets pushed the lead to 40-32 and PC went on a 14-2 run that culminated with a 58-42 lead with 9:26 to play on a Jalen Lindsey corner three. UMass’ only basket was a Rashan Holloway slam but that was answered instantaneously as Young ran the floor for a return jam on a Kyron Cartwright feed.
At that point, most of the 7,815 fans at the Dunk were feeling that they were about to see UMass run out of the Dunk, but the visitors regrouped. Dialed up pressure fed into two quick PC turnovers, a travel and a quick shot, and as Pipkins heated up from outside and Holloway began to hurt PC inside, the lead rapidly shrunk. Over a seven-minute period, UMass outscored PC, 21-8, as the Friars got caught up in playing UMass’ game.
Two Holloway free throws trimmed the lead to 66-63 with 2:09 to play, and Providence needed an answer. Holt knocked down two free throws and nailed a layup after a Pipkins miss. Donte Clark hit one freebie but Bullock answered with two and PC was back up, 72-64 with just 41 ticks left. DeJon Jarraeu missed a three and after a Drew Edwards free throw, Jarreau hit a driving layup and it was 73-66. Bullock knocked down two free throws before Pipkins hit his fifth three pointer of the half to make it 75-69 with 16 seconds left.
When Holt missed two free throws, UMass has a chance, but the Friars defense stiffened and the visitors couldn’t get the quick three that they were looking for, and when Jarraeu missed a three with :03 on the clock, PC had sealed their win.
For a while, the Friars’ poor free throw shooting was keeping UMass alive. At one point, PC was 8-17 from the line before finishing 19-32 (59.4%). Outside of Bullock, who knocked down 10-12, everyone struggled. Holt was 4-9, Cartwright 0-1, Isaiah Jackson 1-2, Young 0-2 and Edwards 1-2. The only thing offsetting that was UMass’ own struggles from the line as the visitors shot just 9-18. Without question, PC’s foul shooting over the past few games has been below par and to be successful, as league play approaches, this will have to improve.
As expected, UMass launched 33 three-pointers, connecting on 10, six by Pipkins. The threat of UMass’ perimeter game spread PC’s defense out and helped to open up room inside for Holloway, a 6-11, 310 pound behemoth. Just a sophomore, Holloway exhibited soft hands and nice feel around the basket, scoring 21 points along with 9 boards and 2 blocks. Pipkins chipped in 20 while Donte Clark scored 9, 8 in the first half. Jarreau is a nice looking freshman point guard who is still rounding back into shape after an injury and struggled, shooting 2-7, with 3 assists and 6 turnovers. As a team, UMass had 19 turnovers, many of them self-inflicted.
Of course, PC had 13 of their own turnovers, but just 4 in the second half, as Cartwright handled UMass’ pressure well. For the game, Kyron had 4 turnovers but dished out 12 assists and ran PC’s offense smoothly. The Friars battled hard on the boards, outrebounding UMass 40-38, led by Bullock’s 10 boards, while Holt scored 18 and had 6 rebounds and Alpha Diallo pulled down 7. PC’s initial defense was tough; four of UMass’ threes came off second shot opportunities.
“This is a nice regional rivalry,” said Ed Cooley. “We’ve played them four years in a row now and next year is going to be a tough game in Amherst.”
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Providence now has a week off for exams before returning to action next Saturday against Wagner at noon at the Dunk.