Friars Crush South Florida, 86-70

Providence College knew that if it took care of business at home, the team could climb back to .500 in the league after starting the conference season with two losses. Mission accomplished as PC cruised by South Florida, 86-70, to improve to 11-5 and 2-2 in the Big East in front of 8721 fans.

South Florida, now in its fourth season as a member of the Big East, has never won a league road game, and Providence seemed determined to ensure that the streak continue. This was a contest where the Friars never trailed in the entire ballgame. In fact, the Bulls managed only one tie, at 12-12 after a Dominique Jones three pointer.

A quick 10-2 burst out of the gate by PC, keyed by two Randall Hanke layups and threes by Geoff McDermott and Brian McKenzie, forced USF into a quick timeout. The Bulls regrouped, but two deep three pointers by "Downtown" Dwain Williams opened a 23-17 lead. The Bulls pulled within one again, at 25-24 on a Kentrell Gransberry layup, but PC kept pouring on the offense.

After Gransberry's basket, Tim Welsh yanked Hanke, who was effective offensively but had picked up two fouls trying to contain the massive South Florida center. Welsh inserted Ray Hall, who put forth his best five minutes of basketball of the season. Hall scored on a nice pick and roll layup from McKenzie, grabbed an offensive board and hustled on both ends of the floor.

Over the final four minutes, PC closed the half with a 13-3 run, started by another deep Williams corner three. McDermott nailed two free throws, Jeff Xavier converted a three point play and with :27 left, McDermott drilled a back breaking three pointer for a 43-31 halftime lead.

The Friars played beautiful defense in the first half, limiting Gransberry to seven points and few good touchs. PC trapped effectively as South Florida's guards crossed halfcourt in a 2-2-1 and dropped back into solid position in what was a very aggressive shifting zone that limited open looks on the perimeter. The Bulls also had no answers for McDermott, who was effective throughout the stanza and bulled his way for 15 points.

"We came out with good energy, good focus today," said Tim Welsh. "Our plan was to stick to their two main guys, which everybody knows is Gransberry and Jones. Once we tightened our defense up and got up on the glass… I think we gave them seven offensive rebounds in the first ten minutes, we shut them down on second attempts. We had more depth today with Dwain which added a guard that stretched the defense, we got the ball inside. Our bench was great, from Ray to Jon to Chuck. We had some foul trouble to deal with too so that helped. I thought coming into the season our depth was going to be one of our pluses, we've had some injuries. If we stay where we are, we can keep people fresh and play matchups which today was Ray and Jon putting some bodies on their bigs inside. We outrebounded them and when you shoot better from the three than from the free throw line, that's pretty good. But we have good shooters and we spread it around, they're unselfish, they pass the ball." The second half was twenty minutes of what amounted to garbage time, as, for the second game in a row, PC's opponent couldn't mount a serious second half run. The Friars quickly began to pull away behind six quick points, including a pretty tip in by Hanke, and an acrobatic layup by McKenzie, to open a 54-37 lead. With Gransberry finding more space to operate, Welsh went to Hall again, but the big sophomore picked up two quick fouls, forcing him to the bench. "We used our fouls against him," said Welsh. "That was kind of our game plan, keep rotating our bigs on him, throw the house at him on certain spots on the floor. Our guys are starting to understand how big every game is. You can get into the mix or out of the mix very quickly. We're a one game at a time team."

South Florida's adjustment at halftime was to spread the Friars out and get the ball inside to Gransberry (15 second half points, 22 for the game), but unfortunately for the Bulls, every time their center scored, PC had an offensive answer of its own. A three pointer by Solomon Bozeman cut the lead to fifteen, at 71-56, but Jonathan Kale, who had relieved Hall, hit a layup, Williams nailed another three, and Jeff Xavier sprinted to save a ball going out of bounds, ending up in the endzone seats. Xavier then ran out for a layup, McDermott ran out for a dunk on a pretty pass from Kale, and Charles Burch drilled a three for a 84-63 lead after a Kale block forced a shot clock violation.

From there, South Florida outscored PC 7-2 over the final three minutes, but it was far too little, too late. For the game, PC was led by McDermott, with a career high 24 points, on 8-10 shooting, including 3-4 threes, and 7 rebounds; Xavier, with 16 points and who fouled out with four minutes left; Williams, with 16 points on 5-10 shooting, including 5-8 threes; and Hanke, with 10 points on 4-4 shooting. PC outrebounded South Florida 36-26, and protected the ball well, committing only 9 turnovers. The Friars hit 13-21 threes, and shot 53% overall.

• Dwain Williams was back with a vengeance. The diminuative guard had been out with an ankle injury but something was wrong with his shooting arm as well. He had been playing with a black sleeve that covered his elbow and his shooting, prior to missing games due to the ankle injury, had been off. Against the Bulls, the sleeve was gone, and his shooting touch was back. "Dwain gives us a third guy out there," said Welsh. "I like X and Brian as on ball pressure guys but its hard to do that all game, so Dwain gives us a third guy. Dwain hasn't played in three weeks and he doesn't get tired. He's an amazing kid. He hasn't practiced that much either but he's a light bodied kid and he's in good shape so he played a lot of minutes."

Sharaud Curry was back on campus with a stomach bug, and his situation for the rest of the season is officially in the red zone. With the South Florida game past, if Curry were to play at all from this point on, any option for a medical redshirt would be gone.

Sheiku Kabba was in attendance and was introduced to the crowd. He played pro ball in Germany last year.

• On players accepting their roles: "Our job as coaches is to talk to the kids all the time. Everyone understands their role. Ray has been very patient and Jon, they want to win. It's not about who plays or who scores. No one remembers that. You remember who won the league or who won the game and what your record was. That's what we emphasize. With a younger team, that's a little more of a struggle but now some guys have been around the block. They want to win. They also respect each other's ability, they go against each other every day in practice, so they know if one guy's playing and they're not, it's a pretty decent player in the game."

• On McDermott's three point shooting explosion: "Geoff has not shot the ball particularly well from the three this year. He shot it a lot better last year before he got hurt and I told him you can get that part of your game back in the flow with more work, he's taking more shots in practice. When he's shooting the ball like that, it opens up a lot of things because people start running at him as a shooter and he can go by people and create for others.

• On the defensive effort: "Defense was pretty solid. We had some great stops. They hit some second shots that hurt our percentages, very active. The three guards who rotate up top, Brian and X and Dwain, they active with a lot of energy up there. If you can be effective in your press it limits their time that they can attack your zone. While they were setting their offense there was only twenty two, twenty three seconds, which means our press was effective. Over the course of a game when a team only has twenty two, twenty three seconds to run its offense, its more of a struggle and that was kind of our game plan.

• On Xavier's dive into the crowd: "One of the things that I marveled about him when he was at Manhattan was I watched the MAAC Tournament and I saw him dive into the first row of the Pepsi Arena up in Albany and he cracked two teeth and blood was all over his face and he went into the lockerroom and I said that's it for him and about six minutes later he was back in the game. I don't know what they did, they stitched him up and I said the guy's nails out there. That's what you need. That kind of toughness and energy transforms to other guys out there and I think he and Brian run each other out there with that stuff and they play off each other with that stuff and McDermott, you've got three hard nosed guys, everybody picks that up as well. I've got to ask him five times if he's hurt but he won't tell you but he's a warrior."

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