Friars Squeezed By The Orange, 71-64

Providence College dug a deep hole for itself in its first visit to the Carrier Dome since 2005 and fought back, but came up short against Syracuse, 71-64. The loss drops the Friars to 12-7 on the season and 3-4 in the Big East, while the Orange improve to 14-7 and 4-4 in the conference.

For the longest time on Sunday, Providence looked deader than dead. The Friars trailed Syracuse on the road for the first thirty-two minutes of the game, by as much as twelve points, and PC's shooting was ice cold. Without the benefit of hot shooting, PC was helpless against Syracuse's long, active zone.

But games can turn on a dime, and this one did. Teams can heat up, and the Friars three point shooting, missing for most of the game, caught fire.

After a free throw by freshman sensation Donte Greene (24 points) made it 46-38 in the home team's favor, Dwain Williams drilled a deep three to cut the lead to 46-41 with 9:30 left. Point guard Jonny Flynn turned the ball over on a forced pass and Jeff Xavier buried another three, making it 46-44. The Orange missed and Geoff McDermott rebounded but Jamine Peterson was rejected by Rick Jackson and a Jackson free throw put Syracuse up by three. Not to worry. An NBA range three by Williams knotted the score at 47-all with 7:30 to play and the Friars had finally caught Cuse.

A strip steal by Xavier led to a Peterson jam off of a Williams drive and miss and PC had its first lead at 49-47. Flynn answered with a three, but Peterson retied the score with a free throw. A nice reverse layup by Kristof Ongenaet put Cuse ahead, and after a Flynn steal, Xavier was called for an intentional foul on Flynn's layup attempt. Flynn nailed both freebies for a 54-50 Syracuse lead but the Friars weren't done.

McDermott rebounded a Paul Harris miss and Jonathan Kale (16 points) snagged a Williams drive and miss, and was fouled as he sank a layup. The three point play pulled PC back to within one, but Harris answered with a layup off a Greene miss. The Orange three point lead was short lived as Xavier nailed a clutch three, tying the score at 56-56 with 4:25 to play. Ongenaet was fouled on a baseline drive but missed both free throws, Arinze Onuaku rebounded but Flynn missed a three, Kale missed a baseline jumper and as PC trapped the ball, Jim Boeheim called a timeout with 2:39 to go, setting up Cuse heroics and excellent execution over the final two and a half minutes.

Out of the timeout, Greene curled behind a high screen deep in three point territory and drilled a straight-on triple for a 59-56 lead. Williams missed a three and Harris was fouled as he rebounded. His free throws made it 61-56, and after McDermott missed two free throws, Syracuse held the ball until with ten seconds left on the shot clock, Flynn penetrated and passed to Onuaku, who was fouled on a dunk attempt. Now behind 63-56, Brian McKenzie (2 points) missed a three pointer, and two Greene free throws put Syracuse up 65-56 with 1:09 left.

Another NBA three by Williams (21 points, five threes), cut the lead to 65-59, but Harris made one of two, and Flynn (8 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) stole a lazy pass attempt from McKenzie to Williams and raced in for an uncontested layup for a 68-59 advantage. Williams hit a driving layup in traffic, and after a Harris free throw, Dwain bombed in a forty footer and the lead was 69-64 with fifteen seconds left. Two Flynn free throws, followed by a Williams miss from three put an end to the Friars hard fought comeback attempt.

But why was a comeback attempt necessary? The reasons are many and troubling from a PC perspective. This was an undermanned Syracuse squad, with guard Antonio Jardine being suspended prior to the game. With Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins out, Syracuse's depth options were limited.

Boeheim answered by going big. Flynn was often the only small player on the floor and the Cuse's length definitely bothered PC. Until PC's surge late in the second half, the Friars were unable to penetrate and get the ball consistently inside against the Orange zone. Moreover, Syracuse was killing the Friars on the glass, making their living on second shot opportunities. It wasn't so much that Syracuse shot the ball so well; it was more that they were getting so many second and third shots.

Meanwhile, PC's offense sputtered. The Friars were 1-12 from three in the first half and were overly reliant on the three. Unable to get inside, PC's offense consisted of east-west movement and hurried three ball attempts. The Friars trailed 30-21 at the half and shot just 29% in the first half. Take away the suddenly hot threes by Williams and Xavier in the second half and you have an offense that struggles to run effectively in the half court. PC is just too dependent on three point shooting and does not have the interior answers.

Even more troubling was the offensive no-shows by McDermott, McKenzie and Weyinmi Efejuku. McKenzie was missing from all over the place, while McDermott and Efejuku failed to score a point in the game. McDermott passed well and did his share on the boards, but often passed up shots and made several unnecessary extra passes in lieu of shooting. The Cuse size inside definitely bothered Geoff, especially on one sequence where he kept grabbing his own miss and ultimately missed three layups on one possession. Once again, Randall Hanke was ineffective and played limited minutes.

So, the Friars move on to a tough road date at Notre Dame. There really is no secret, hidden puzzle to this Providence team. When they shoot well, they have a chance. When they don't shoot well, they have no chance. When they play an opponent that can't shoot, they have a chance. When they play an opponent that shoots well, life is going to be difficult. However those elements mix and match in each game will provide a real basis for determining how the rest of the season plays out. Because make no mistake, this is a season thats in danger of slipping away.

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