Friars Top Hapless Knights, 76-50

After starting the season 0-2 in the Big East, a win was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Friars. Enter the Rutgers Scarlet Knights… the perfect cure for all that ails you.

Like many of Providence's games this season, this contest was a tale of two completely different halves. In PC's last game against DePaul, the Friars came out sluggish in the first half and bricked their way to a thirteen point halftime deficit. The Friars roared back in the second half, but were never quite able to get over the hump, and ultimately ended up losing by five points.

Against Rutgers, the Friars once again came out flat and that contributed mightily to a first half that was nothing less than a poorly played struggle. The visitors, sparked by Anthony Farmer, Earl Pettis and J.R. Inman, led for most of the half, but Rutgers' own ineptitude prevented them from taking anything more than a five point lead. Providence, meanwhile, racked up ten turnovers and shot just 1-10 from three, as they were unable to catch the Knights until Randall Hanke spun home a layup for a 25-24 lead with five minutes remaining.

After a three pointer by Farmer tied the score at 29-all, two free throws by Jamine Peterson put PC in the lead for the final three minutes of the half, but even then Providence was unable to shake Rutgers. An acrobatic layup by Brian McKenzie gave PC a four point lead, but another three by Farmer and two free throws by Inman sent PC to the lockerroom with an uncomfortably slim 35-34 lead.

"We went into halftime having given up 34 points," said Tim Welsh. "They've got some guys who can make shots, but they haven't been in a rhythym lately and they're averaging 60 points, so giving up 34, I was upset. Our offense looked fine, we had to stop turning it over, be more solid, stop trying to hit the home run on the second pass, and just defend better. We had to defend better, nothing special, nothing tricky, just keep our hands up and be solid. The defense was the key because we turned them over a lot in the second half and they went a long time without a basket."

The second half was a nightmare for Rutgers and a dream scenario for coach Tim Welsh. Mixing pressure with zone, Welsh and the Friars quickly blew open a 40-38 lead, as the Knights couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. In a two and a half minute span, PC received a twisting layup and free throws from Jonathan Kale, a three by McKenzie, two jumpers by Jeff Xavier and a jump hook by Alex Kellogg, wrapped around multiple turnovers by Hamady Ndiaye and missed shots, that ballooned the lead to fifteen, at 53-38.

PC's lead continued to grow over the final twelve minutes as Rutgers never threatened, never made a run. In fact, the Scarlet Knights flashed all of the warts that have made them the worst team in the Big East, to the point of visibly throwing in the towel and not getting back on defense.

With 3:33 left, the lead peaked at thirty points, at 76-46, on a dunk by McKenzie, who was running wild on the Knights. From there, Welsh emptied his bench and PC did not score again, but the Knights could manage only four free throws themselves in that time, accounting for the final of 76-50.

For the game, Rutgers shot just 14-44 from the floor and just 2-20 in the second half. "When a team shoots two for twenty, that's an exclamation point right there for your defense," said Welsh. "We were running at shooters, we were rebounding the ball well, our bench gave us some good stuff, where Jonathan and Alex came in and gave us good play on the back line." In all, PC outscored Rutgers in the second half by a 41-16 count, as the Friars defense clamped down and the Knights' offense came unhinged. PC outrebounded the whipped Knights 43-27 and piled up 16 assists to Rutgers' five. PC was led by McKenzie's 24 points, a career-high, on 10-14 shooting, along with Hanke's 12 points and 8 rebounds, Xavier's 11 points, Weyinmi Efejuku, with 8 points, and Geoff McDermott, who filled the stat sheet again with 7 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and four steals.

Randall Hanke was especially active and alert, running the floor well, positioning himself for rebounds and looking active on the back line of the defense. Alex Kellogg played sixteen minutes and contributed six points, two rebounds, and heads-up play. With the win, PC improves to 10-5 overall, 1-2 in the Big East, while Rutgers falls to 8-8 and 0-3. Friar fans have now seen rock bottom, and its name is Rutgers. Next up for PC… a date with improved South Florida on Saturday at 4:00, in what looms as another important contest.

• On Dwain Williams, Sharaud Curry and the guard corp: "We're somewhat limited in numbers," said Welsh. "But Brian and X were just terrors out there in the zone for a period of time, because we're dangerous when we're running because we have a lot of athletes and finishers. Dwain was available tonight but I didn't want to use him unless it was 9-1-1. He practiced but he struggled to get through the practice, we'll build him up to where he'll be out there with us and we need him, obviously. Sharaud is still hurting, he's got a broken foot, it's inside the body, who knows how long it'll be. We're hoping soon but if he's not better soon we'll keep on playing and hope for the best."

• On getting to play a Big East game at home: "We're happy to get back home," said Welsh. "Obviously this league is beco,ming a league of home courts and we've played well here over the last few years, I think we've won 23 out of our last 26, so we feel good about playing here. It's good to get a league win. It's a comfort level. You've got your home fans supporting you. We got into the building to practice yesterday which is a plus. Anytime you can get into the building the day before it helps you get comfortable. Just being in your own room, not having to travel, the wear and tear. People forget, the league is a lot different in travel than it used to be. We used to go to Boston College and our fans would be there. We'd go to Connecticut, Seton Hall, St. John's, a quick little bus ride. Now its like you're going to the Midwest a lot. We have to go to Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Marquette, West Virginia, South Florida, travel is hellacious, its tough, all those trips are tough trips, there's a lot of travel in our league now. It's tough on kids, you've got to be mentally strong, you have to find a way to win on the road, you have to be iron tough on the road, hopefully we've learned some lessons."

• "We looked at their team," commented Welsh. "And I felt we could pressure them. We used three quarter and full presses. Jeff and Brian were really active up there, and Alex was really active with his long arms and that allows Geoff to play free safety and make a lot of things happen."

• On the foul by McDermott that sent Ndiaye to the deck and earned Geoff an intentional foul call that enraged fans: "It was a hard foul. It was a good call. I think people don't understand, there's an intentional foul where you just grab a guy's shirt and don't go for the ball and there's a hard foul, he came right across his arm pretty hard, he wound up, but it wasn't intentional in any way, he was just making a hard play, it was a physical play. When two bodies collide like that, it's a hard foul, but it wasn't intentional, he wasn't trying to hurt him, I don't think he is hurt, it was a good call. Sometimes referees will react the way somebody hits the floor. These guys are high flying athletes, they're up in the air, they lose their footing, they hit the wood and boom, it's a hard foul. He came across his arm and kind of pulled him down. It‘s fine, it's a good call."

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