Friars come up short vs. Gray, Panthers

The Friars battled their 5th top ten team of year Wednesday night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center but ultimately didn't get enough defensive stops to hold off seven foot Aaron Gray and the 9th ranked Pitt Panthers.

A deep and physical Pittsburgh squad rallied from a four point half time deficit to pull away from Providence in the second half by successfully pounding the ball inside, lifting them to a 85-77 victory.

With a change to the starting lineup that replaced Randall Hanke and Weyinmi Efejuku with Herb Hill and Charlie Burch, the Friars got off to a strong start which gave them solid execution on both ends of the floor. Donnie McGrath (28pts.) quickly demonstrated that his was going to have a special night shooting the ball, leading the Friars in a first half that they would never trail in. The Friars also received an excellent first half from Charlie Burch, as he posted 9 points and 5 rebounds in 14 productive minutes. Sharaud Curry also chipped in seven points in the first half on 3-4 shooting.

On the defensive end, Providence did an excellent job of limiting the shooting opportunities of both Aaron Gray and Ronald Ramon, limiting them to a total of 12 points. Carl Krauser, who spent most of the half on the bench with foul trouble, struggled with his shooting going 1-5 from the field. Tim Welsh had to be happy with the 9 offensive boards the Friars had in the 1st half, and gladly took a four point lead into halftime.

The second half saw a different Pittsburgh team that realized that the Friars were not to be taken lightly. By doing a much better job of getting the ball into position near the foul line, Pittsburgh forced a defender away from the basket, often leaving Aaron Gray in single coverage on the low block. The results were devastating for the Friars as Gray would proceed to go 8-8 from the field in the second half, putting up 18 points and making life much easier for Pittsburgh's shooters, particularly Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin.

Benjamin hit a critical late three pointer with 5:34 to go that ended an 11-5 Providence run which had cut the Pitt lead to just six points. From that point on, the Friars managed to force some turnovers and get a few late baskets from Weyinmi Efejuku on penetration, but Pitt had managed to secure enough of a cushion to avoid any last minute collapse from manifesting itself.

The Friars still have an awful hard time handling the strong and physical lineup that Jaime Dixon's Panthers present. While the Friars scored a healthy 77 points against a very good defensive team, even Donnie McGrath's shooting heroics weren't enough to compensate for the relentless Pitt inside game in the 2nd half. The woeful 60% shooting percentage that the Friars allowed Pitt in the second half totally offset the fact that Providence actually edged the Panthers on the backboards for the game at 31-30.

There is little time to dwell on the loss, as the Friars must immediately travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats in what is shaping up to be a very important game. With yet another game to play at Pittsburgh, the Friars would be wise to try and steal at least one more road win in the Big East. This Friday is as good an opportunity as any that remains on the schedule.

Tim Welsh Press Comments:

"The tale of the tape is that they wore us out with their inside bodies that they threw at us. The physical presence of Gray and Kendall, and throwing Young in there too; combined with their guards working well with the big men… their depth just really wore us out in the second half."

"I told our guys at halftime that I thought that our offense looked pretty good scoring 37 points in a half but that we could have been up 10 at the half had we controlled our own backboard better. On the other side, we did a great job on the offensive boards in the 1st half but that kind of went away in the second half and that was a big difference in the game."

"I thought we moved the ball well tonight… scoring 75 should be enough to win, but you can't give up 80. Very rarely in this league to you give up 80 points and win. That's why we've gone to a more defensive lineup over the last few games and I think it's been a positive but you're not going to outscore people in this league. You just can't do it."

"You've got to defend the paint; you've got to rebound the basketball. The game is played in the lane… the guards can do their thing but the game is won inside – especially against a team like Pittsburgh. As we move forward towards March teams tighten up and you can't go out and just outscore people. We gave up 52 points in the second half and there you have it."

"In the 2nd half, they got the ball to the foul line, and when they do that it exposes the inside of your defense because your guards have to slide out to the shooters, so someone has to come up to guard the foul line, and now you're matched up with Gray inside and he can over overpower you and sometimes the double team doesn't get there quick enough. He's very, very, good player. You've got to get around him… you just can't let him catch it down there because if you look at his field goal percentages in the paint, he makes you pay."

"We threw everything at them that we could… we played man, we played zone, we changed lineups, and we threw some pressure at them but they're a good team and if they get in their rhythm and you don't answer when you have the opportunity then they'll beat you. You've got to seize your opportunities when they are there. A couple of times we got the lead back to 5 or 6 and they'd grab some offensive rebound, and get the put back and one. That was a big time killer. "

"Our guys are disappointed that we didn't get the win but they have to be ready every night. They didn't make the plays you have to win tonight. They battled, but didn't play tough enough to win the game. But, with the scheduling the way it is, they quickly have to forget this game now and prepare for Cincinnati on Friday, who is an excellent team who won again tonight on the road. Everybody has a sense of urgency now that's stepped up a level from even a few weeks ago. So we'll have to play better than we did tonight and we'll take our show on the road."

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