Peacocks Ruffle Friars Feathers Before Bowing

The out of conference portion of the Friars schedule is finally over and it didn't go quietly. Providence had to dig deep to hold off a game St. Peter's squad on New Year's Eve, 83-78, to improve to 9-3. Straight ahead – the Big East.

The Friars have played a strange schedule so far. Scheduling difficulties with the Dunkin" Donuts Center, never an easy task, were further complicated by construction this season, and as a result, PC played a number of neutral court games and had two long gameless stretches instead of the usual one. PC was off between December 9th and December 19th for the usual holiday exam break, but then sat for another nine days wrapped around Christmas before returning on New Year's Eve for a 2:00 contest against St. Peter's.

At the outset, the break didn't seem to faze the Friars. PC jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a Jeff Xavier (18 points) three, a layup by Randall Hanke (23 points, 14 rebounds), and a dunk by Geoff McDermott (12 points, 5 rebounds). Over the first six minutes of the game, Hanke and McDermott dominated inside, but the tide turned as St. Peter's began to find the range from the arc.

A flurry of three pointers by Raul Orta helped the Peacocks catch the Friars at 22-all, and baskets by Orta and Akeem Gooding put St. Peter's up 27-22. Providence fought back behind Hanke and grabbed a 34-33 lead on a layup by Jamine Peterson. The Friars stretched the lead to 39-33, but the Peacocks kept fighting back with three pointers. The final three minutes of the half saw the Friars blow a six point lead. After a Todd Sowell layup, Weyinmi Efejuku turned the ball over and Jon Hogga hit an offensive rebound layup. Hanke dunked for a 44-40 lead but St. Peter's scored the final five points of the half. Another Efejuku turnover resulted in a Nick Leon three, and when Leon stripped Efejuku, Wesley Jenkins nailed a jumper that sent the teams to the lockerroom with PC down, 45-44.

In the first half, PC had shot 61%, but St. Peter's had abused the Friars zone for 7-12 three pointers and had battled the bigger Friars to a deadlock on the glass. Hanke had 15 points, but St. Peter's had three players in double figures scoring. "Giving up 45 points in the first half," said Tim Welsh. "was unacceptable and was something that was discussed at halftime. We gave up 50-something points in the second half to Florida State, 50-something points in the second half to Sacred Heart. The good news is that we gave up 33 points in the second half."

The second half was a twenty minute grind it out affair. An opening three by Wesley Jenkins pushed the lead to four, but Efejuku answered with a three and when McDermott hit a layup with sixteen minutes left, PC had a 51-50 lead and would never trail again.

For the remainder of the game, the Friars lead fluctuated between two points and seven, but St. Peter's wouldn't go away. The Peacocks cooled from three point land but began to attack the basket behind the 6'7, 260 pound Sowell and PC had all kinds of problems stopping him. Sowell (17 points, 12 rebounds) proved to be a tough matchup for Hanke, and repeated penetration by St. Peter's guards succeeded in getting him the ball in great spots.

Hogga cut the lead to two, at 72-70 but Xavier answered with a jumper and after Leon missed a short jumper, Peterson slammed home a three point miss by Xavier. A Darrell Lampley jumper made it 76-72 with 1:48 to play when Xavier hit the basket of the game. His three pointer made it 79-72 and finally gave PC some breathing room, and even two more threes by Orta couldn't offset PC's free throws in the final half minute. "The good news is it's a win," commented Welsh. "We have good offensive rythym, we have an inside presence with Randall, our guards are looking for each other, we share the ball well. We have to defend better. We have to play with more passion on the defensive end of the floor. Certainly we'll address that as we move forward."

"When I coached at Iona," said Welsh. "I know what its all about when a MAAC team plays a Big East team. It's a very dangerous game. Their kids are all from New York, New Jersey, they know all our guys, and all they see all the time is Big East, Big East, Big East, they play against our guys in the summer. When those guys play against Big East teams, they have a lot to prove and they're not scared."

• Defensively, PC played mostly zone but switched to man when Hanke left the game. Not much seemed to work against the Peacocks. On the perimeter, the Friars were consistently beat on dribble penetration and PC's guards seemed unable to keep the St. Pete guards in front of them. The Peacocks were able to find open perimeter shooters, and PC's guards were reduced to flying out at the shooter, leaving them vulnerable to headfakes and penetration. "In the first half we had major trouble with their guards," said Welsh. "We were a step slow so we decided to play straight zone to try to keep their shooters in front of us."

Once inside, Providence struggled to stop Sowell and Gooding, but after surrendering 45 first half points, PC held St. Peter's to 33 second half points and 35% shooting. The Friars also did a tremendous job on the glass and especially the offensive glass in the second half, racking up 22 offensive rebounds and a 35-21 second half advantage on the boards overall. "Our size eventually wore them out," said Welsh. "With Geoff and Randall and Greedy up front along with Chuck a little bit. Our offensive rebounding in the second half was tremendous. We should offensive rebound against a team we have size with."

• With Sharaud Curry in Georgia helping his mother with an ill brother, and Dwain Williams out with a deeply bruised ankle, the Friars turned to Efejuku and Xavier to run the offense and for the most part, the offense flowed nicely. PC had 16 assists on 32 made baskets and only 12 turnovers. Curry, whose foot is still in a boot, will be reevaluated when he returns, while Williams, who has had surgery on his ankle in the past, is day to day. His return could be three days away, it could be ten days away. He has a severe ankle bruise on the ball of his foot and has lost strength in that area.

• On Randall Hanke: "Randall is starting to get his weight back," said Welsh. "He's much improved in the weight room. He's playing with a lot of confidence. They had a big guy, Sowell, too, who is the kind of guy that can give Randall fits. But he had these kind of numbers against Marquette two years ago. Let's just hope he can bring it to Milwaukee on Thursday. He got pinned a little against Sowell, but if he can keep putting up those solid numbers, we're going to be dangerous on offense."

• On answers for the defense: "It's not the scheme," said Welsh. "Its about being up on your toes, being aggressive. You look at X, you look at Weymi, those guys should be lock down defenders. Sometimes I think we get so trigger happy on offense, we forget about defense. Unfortunately, I don't think we can become the Phoenix Suns and just outscore people. There's not a lot of 90-88 games in the Big East. It comes down to defense and rebounding."

• On not winning by big margins against perceived lesser teams: "My good friend, John Calipari, says, you know what, everyone needs to realize these are kids," said Welsh. "We get over analytical, and I agree with him. We want to analyze how much we won by, we want to analyze our defensive points. That's what I should do. If we win, we go on. These kids are not professionals, they're young. So they won the game, they don't care how many they won by. As a basketball coach, I'm going to analyze every possession and try to teach them and try to get better. In the Sacred Heart game, it was You didn't win by enough. Well, who says how many we have to win by? We want them to be focused, but its hard to come out at your top level every night. We want them to but it doesn't always happen. I watched the Lakers come out and just get their butt whipped last night. They're pros, what happened to them? They didn't win. So, the thing that I like is this game was on edge and our guys made plays to win the game. I saw Purdue beat Louisville and then lose to Wofford. A lot of teams have gotten clipped in these types of games."

• On lack of playing time for players like Jon Kale: "I can't play everybody," said Welsh. "We played eight guys. I played eight guys against Florida State. Jon's part of the team, Marshon Brooks is part of the team, they all accept their roles. If they don't get in, they'll be ready for practice tomorrow. Jon's a winner, he's one of our captains, we need him. Today I chose not to use him. I'm not going to answer questions every game about who's not playing, especially after wins. We played the guys we thought could help us win. You're not at practice, you're not watching tapes, you're not analyzing scouting reports. We'll play the guys who can help us. Now Jon can certainly help us, so can Alex Kellogg, so can Ray Hall and when the time comes, we'll play them. They're a team. Jon doesn't care that he didn't play, he cares that we won, and that's why he's one of our captains. As we move forward we'll need him, his strength in the middle. Greedy did pretty good, he had nine rebounds tonight in seventeen minutes. Randall had 23 points, 14 rebounds, so I guess we played the right guys."

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