The freshman and his teammates made a sequence of late key plays that forced an extra session, and ultimately propelled PC to a desperately needed overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats, 81-79.
Everybody needs a little time away. It appears that was just what the doctor ordered for Providence, as some time off the court gave the Friars the rest and mental lift they needed to post their first Big East win since February 5th over Depaul. Tim Welsh gave his team a few days off to heal both physically and mentally, and let them regroup with a few new wrinkles thrown into their game planning. The strategy worked, as Providence put in their best 40 plus minute team performance in weeks.
For starters, the Friars came out with an unusual starting lineup that featured both Charles Burch and Alex Kellogg, while Jeff Xavier and Randall Hanke came off the bench. Both Xavier and Hanke have been playing injured, and Tim Welsh felt that starting two healthier players might keep the team fresher down the stretch. In addition, Welsh's decision to play Geoff McDermott exclusively at point guard freed up the PC swingmen to come off screens from Burch and Kellogg for open shots.
Providence got off to a hot start in the first half, leading 12-2 at the 15 minute mark. The Bearcats then began to compose themselves, getting into the gaps in the PC zone, kicking the ball out for 3 point shots, and converting on second chance opportunities.
Cincinnati actually took the lead at 30-28 with five minutes left in the 1st half, due to some Friar turnovers which resulted in easy transition hoops for Mick Cronin's crew. However, Providence rallied to retake the lead, with Marshon Brooks hitting some shots off the bench and causing havoc at the top of the Friar zone, stalling the Cincinnati attack some.
With a three point lead and the ball, PC's Brian McKenzie nailed a three pointer at the buzzer to give the Friars a 40-34 lead at the half. Geoff McDermott had an outstanding game playing the point in this one, and while he did make his share of judgment errors along the way, he scored, rebounded, and steadied the Providence attack, opening up opportunities for his teammates throughout the game.
All in all, it was an excellent performance by McDermott. (13pts, 14rbs, 9assists, 3 TO's) Because of McDemott's leadership, all of the Friar swing men had productive offensive games. Brian McKenzie led the team with 18 points, but Weyinme Efejuku, Jeff Xavier, and Marshon Brooks also all scored in double figures.
Most impressive was clearly the performance of Brooks. While the freshman's 15 points off the bench was eye opener in itself, his dramatic plays down the stretch are what made him the star of the game. The Friars never would have had a chance without McDermott's overall play, but it was Brooks late who put the Friars over the top. Brooks not only hit an overtime securing bank shot rushed from the foul line, but he provided the Friars with two outstanding defensive plays in OT that without question won the game for Providence. Brooks' athletic block of Cincinnati's Williamson in the closing seconds of overtime was something out of Hakim Warrick's bag of tricks, and the type of clutch defensive play not often seen from the Friars.
The road win at Cincinnati was really a complete team effort. Besides Brooks' heroics, starters McDermott and McKenzie also delivered, and you can't underestimate the importance of Weyinme Efejuku's tying 3 point shot in overtime, key rebounds by Jeff Xavier, or the hard screens set by Kellogg and Burch. Sunday's win demonstrated that the Friars still have enough fight to push for the last spot in the Big East tournament.
The team did a good job regrouping from the debacle at West Virginia, and now come home for their final two regular season games at the Dunk. These matchups will be a step up in competition, and the Friars are going to have to rebound better and make more free throws to grab another win or more. Much like the Cincinnati game, how PC performs against UConn and Villanova will determine how this edition of the Friars is remembered when the balls are put away this off season.
PC Prevails in OT Road Win
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