It will probably never get any better for new head coach Keno Davis than it was at the start of the season opener against Northeastern. Introduced after the players, Davis received a rousing ovation from the crowd. By the end of the night, however, the fans' enthusiasm had dampened considerably.
The first half was a disaster on offense for PC. The Friars started the game with purpose, building a 13-5 lead in the first eight minutes after two consecutive inside hoops by Jonathan Kale. However, a three pointer by Weyinmi Efejuku a minute and a half into the game would be the only three that the team would hit in the first half.
Providence would score only twelve points in the final twelve minutes of the half. Northeastern was struggling as well against PC's pressure defense, but the Huskies began to find the range and grabbed the lead at 20-18 on a three by Eugene Spates (17 points). A driving layup by Efejuku gave PC its last lead of night, 23-22 with two minutes remaining, but Northeastern answered with two driving layups of their own, and after a Marshon Brooks put-in with a second left, the Huskies raced to the lockerroom with a 26-25 halftime lead.
The first half had not been kind to the Friars, who hit just 1-13 from three point range, evoking memories of the Ottawa exhibition game. In addition, PC committed 12 turnovers, an ominous sign of things to come. In the last six minutes of the half, PC's offense devolved into players not moving; players going one on one in driving to the hoop; and quick, on the move three point attempts. Not a recipe for success, and the Friars struggled to score on every possession, while the Huskies offense looked much smoother. Northeastern came in with no fear and having played two games, was ready. "I think you saw a team that was further along than a lot of teams at this time of year," said Keno Davis. "Their experience playing in Ann Arbor, their experience in going to Canada, we knew it was a tough game to schedule. I would have loved to played Northeastern a few weeks later, maybe we would have had a few more things in."
In the second half, Providence played hard, and the shooting improved somewhat, but the mistakes remained. Every time PC pulled back into the game, they shot themselves in both feet with missed free throws or ill-timed turnovers. Over the first ten minutes of the half, PC's pressure caused Northeastern just enough discomfort to prevent the Huskies from pulling away from the Friars' sputtering offense, but at the halfway point, Northeastern caught fire and used a Spates three and layup and a Baptiste Bastille three point dagger to open a 51-40 lead.
At that point, PC finally heated up, behind three threes by Brian McKenzie and one by an ice cold Jeff Xavier to pull back to 55-52 with six minutes to play. After free throws by NU's do-everything Matt Janning (24 points), Geoff McDermott nailed a layup and a three to knot the score at 57-all, setting up the final four minutes. "With Janning and Spates, we knew coming in that they were both special players," said Davis. "Those were the two guys who could beat us, that we needed to shut them down and those were the two guys who beat us. So we will try everything we can to improve defensively and not allow the other team's best player to get those kinds of open looks."
Another Bastille dagger from the corner put NU up by three, and Kale hit just one free throw. Spates followed with a huge three that upped the lead to five, before a Kale layup and an Efejuku three point play tied the score at 63-63 with two minutes remaining. Northeastern assumed the lead for good on a Janning three pointer, after which Weyimi missed two free throws. PC controlled the rebound but McKenzie missed a rushed three, PC rebounded again and McKenzie was fouled but made just one free throw.
A Chaisson Allen free throw put NU up 67-64, and set up the penultimate play of the game. With fifteen seconds left, Efejuku whirled to the basket and dribbled the ball off of his leg and out of bounds. PC fouled Allen, who sank both free throws, and the Huskies were home free with the upset. "What you found was a team that didn't fold," Davis said. "You look at us coming back and all the momentum was going our way in certain stretches, and they were knocking down threes. We needed to cover them to make sure they didn't have open looks. They shot some long ones but they knocked them down."
In all, PC turned the ball over 21 times, six by Efejuku and five by McDermott. Although Weyinmi's turnover was the most ill-timed, he was hardly alone. Both McDermott and Xavier committed momentum-turning turnovers as well. In addition, PC shot 12-22 from the free throw line, 8-16 in the second half, and missed numerous front ends of one and ones. PC also hit just 6-25 threes. "I'm not frustrated with the quantity of three point shots we took," Davis remarked. "I'm a little frustrated, to say the least, with the quality of some of the three point shots. I think if a team leaves you wide open at the three point line and you're a forty percent shooter, I can't think of a much better shot to take. It's some of the ones off the dribble from three, four steps back that we've got to learn quickly that we've got to be a little tougher and take it to the basket."
Where PC excelled was on the boards. The Friars outrebounded NU 41-26, and piled up 22 offensive rebounds. Both Kale and McDermott wrestled rebounds away from Northeastern players. As a result, in the first half, PC scored 12 of their 25 points on second chance opportunities. "I've been talking to our team about continuing to get better," said Davis. "And so, to have outrebounded a big, strong, talented Northeastern team the way we did, I've got to look at that as a positive." Ultimately, the Friars played hard and with intensity, and their pressure defense and half and three quarter court traps caused Northeastern fits. But offensively, PC's movement and patterns broke down, and in crunch time, when adversity reared its ugly head, the Friars reverted to the ghosts of past breakdowns and mistakes.
A busy week lies ahead for Providence. Games against Dartmouth, Sacred Heart and Maine await on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This loss will sting throughout the season, and depending on future results, could have long term implications, but for now, PC has no time to feel bad for themselves. The Friars need to continue to improve and bounce back in a hurry.
NOTES: Alex Kellogg did not play due to a sore knee. The pain was bad enough for him to miss practice on Friday and he'll have an MRI on Monday. He could be out for awhile, but that will not affect a probable Greedy Peterson redshirt decision… Weyinmi Efejuku (6-10 shooting) led PC with 16 points and now has 999 points in his career… With thirty seconds left and down by three, Jeff Xavier was firmly planted on the bench. Xavier had not had a good game, but his absence during crunch time was noted by many. He played just eighteen minutes… Geoff McDermott had his moments, but also his struggles. "We need to figure out as a coaching staff how to get him more involved," said Davis. "He had four fouls and I think that bothered him. He played 27 minutes but a lot of that was with four fouls. He became more hesitant."… Sharaud Curry also had a rough night, shooting just 1-8, and looking less explosive. "I'd hate for the fans to get on him, because nobody has worked harder to come back from this injury than he has," said Davis. "When you first come back, you just don't have the same explosiveness or knock down a shot, it could be that you're just a little bit away. I think you'll see him continue to improve throughout the season."… Randall Hanke scored on two nifty moves in the first half but saw just two minutes in the second half, as the Friars largely went with their starting five for most of the second half.
Northeastern Rocks The Friars, 70-66
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