Friars Outworked on the Glass, Lose 82-73

Sometimes it's difficult to figure exactly where a game is lost, and sometimes it is fairly clear. Despite shooting an impressive 55% from the field, the Friars lost the battle of the boards by ten against the quick Wildcats and dropped a home game to Villanova 82-73.

Providence's matchup with surging Villanova illustrated a number of problems, but the one that really broke the Friars back last night was the inability to grab rebounds. While rebounding is usually a team strength, the Friars have suddenly taken a step backward in this area.

With Charlie Burch out due to back problems and Weyinme Efejuku lacking his usual lift due to his tailbone injury, Tim Welsh started with a zone and Jon Kale in the lineup with the hope of controlling the glass against the quick Wildcats. It proved to backfire as Kale was out-quicked by Villanova's front court and the relatively fast pace of the game, leaving him with no rebounds and three turnovers in only 7 minutes of play. It wasn't just Kale who had turnovers in the early going though, as the Friars had 10 turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game, a few of them ill conceived passes by Geoff McDermott (5 to's). While turnovers were clearly the biggest problem in the early going, the Friars would improve some in that area the rest of the way.

By the ten minute mark of the 1st half, the Friars were down 21-11 and Tim Welsh had switched to a three guard lineup, a man to man defense, and a full court press after made baskets. The strategy worked as Villanova got out of their rhythm and began to turn the ball over against the Friar pressure. Herb Hill, who scored 12 points but whose shooting opportunities were limited, was repeatedly denied the ball by the Villanova frontcourt with frequent double teams, so it was often up to other players to knock down the open shots.

Combined with some sharp shooting from freshman Dwain Williams (18 pts, 4-7 on 3pters) and Sharaud Curry, who finally seems to have his game back, (18 pts, 6-12 fg) the Friars surged back and grabbed a four point lead with 3:22 left in the 1st half. Weyinme Efejuku also had a gritty 12 pt. outing, despite playing in pain. However, some key baskets by seniors Curtis Sumpter and Mike Nardi (19 pts. 5-6 on 3pters) got the Wildcats back in the lead by four at halftime 41-37. Nova's senior experience really showed as Nardi, Sumpter and Will Sheridan all contributed key baskets at big moments.

The second half saw the Friars continue to press with somewhat less success due in part to a lack of depth, but they continued to shoot the ball well from the field. Again the biggest problem was that they continued to get out rebounded by Villanova, giving the Cats 14 second chance points for the game. In fact, Villanova only had two fewer offensive rebounds in the game (15) than the Friars had defensive rebounds (17). This was a product of the quickness and aggression of the Villanova frontcourt, the lack of rebounding from the Friar small forward position, and some poor efforts at boxing out by Herb Hill (5rbs) and the rest of the Friar frontcourt. Villanova's depth and ability to rotate 5 forwards into the game also played a role in winning the battle of the boards.

While the Friars would make a few small runs and keep within striking distance, they never could get the Villanova lead under six or seven until the 1:37 mark of the 2nd half when Geoff McDermott had a steal and dunk which cut the Villanova lead to 4. McDermott shot the ball very well from the field (13 pts. 6-8 fg), but was not quite himself on the backboards. Some poor execution on the final few Friar possessions and some solid free throw shooting by Villanova carried them in the final two minutes.

The Friars continue to have serious turnover problems (22), especially early in games, as last night demonstrated. However, given how they were able to turn over Villanova to almost the same degree, (19 Nova to's) that ugly statistic was somewhat offset. The free throw shooting also continues to be poor. The Friars shot a poor 58%, taking nine more attempts than Villanova but only making 4 more shots from the stripe.

Regardless, the ability of Villanova to grab offensive rebounds was the key factor in the game. Villanova did not shoot quite as high a percentage from the field as the Friars, but took 13 more shots which ultimately was Providence's undoing. Despite the loss, Providence had five players all with double figures, which was an improvement from recent game where they have not shot well from the outside.

The Friars return to action on Saturday 1/27 at Noon against New England rival Connecticut at the Hartford Civic Center. The Friars are in desperate need of a road victory, as the schedule now enters it's most difficult stretch. As always, avoiding turnovers and free throw shooting will be keys, as well as a need for the Friars to reestablish themselves on the glass. At 3-3 in the Big East, Providence now needs to turn their attention away from the top of the conference, and starting fighting harder than every to keep themselves from slipping to the bottom of a conference that offers no easy outings.

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