Providence played perhaps its best half of basketball in the still young season, racing out to a 50-32 halftime lead over the Black Bears. The Friars committed an unheard of one turnover in the first half, shot fifty percent and stifled the Bears' offense. For the second consecutive game, a Friar had a big first half, this time Jeff Xavier, who poured in 16 of his game-high 23 points.
"The first half was as good defense as we've seen, whether in practice or in games," said Keno Davis. "And probably a reason for that is we were knocking down shots. So when you're knocking down shots or getting steals, it sometimes feeds the defense and you play even harder. I told the team afterward, we're just scratching the surface of how good we can become. There's plenty of room for improvement. You see spurts of three, four minutes, where we play really well. We just have to put more of those minutes together out of forty."
"You're seeing the improvement," said Davis. "Now, we have to see if we can improve more. Our post moves, our drives, on the defensive end, can we attack shooters more at the three point line. It's helped us that the teams we've played have shot really well, even when we've played pretty good defense, so you've got to improve your halfcourt defense. Our fullcourt is improving. The halfcourt is when you get into the gym and identify their best player and not let him beat you. Make their third, fourth, fifth best player beat you."
PC came out hard from the get-go, jumping out to a leads of 12-4, 19-7 and 30-9 after an 11-0 run sparked by three three-pointers by Xavier. Over the last ten minutes of the half, PC's lead hovered between fifteen and twenty-two points, as Maine was never able to mount a serious challenge. Meanwhile, Xavier, Geoff McDermott (12 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals), and Jonathan Kale (13 points) dominated on both the offensive and defensive end. "A couple of things stand out to me today," said Davis. "One is the effort that our guys put out today after having three games in five days, having a very short turnaround from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon, I was impressed with that, and the other thing is our ability to have different guys lead us in scoring. Thursday Marshon Brooks comes off the bench to lead us and today Jeff Xavier comes off to lead us. Those things are the sign of a team that going to be tough to beat later in the year."
"I would have liked to coach Geoff McDermott for a few more years," Davis said. "You could put him at the point guard position, you could put him at the power forward, wherever you want and he's going to make the right play. He's focused on what can he do to help the team win. If its rebounding and he can go get 14 rebounds, if he needs to be our scorer, he can do that, if he needs to put the ball on the floor, bring the ball up, he's just the kind of guy you can build your team around. He's someone that's going to help us go pretty far this year. And its going to be tough to fill his shoes."
In the second half, Maine showed some life and began playing tougher on defense. A Mark Socoby three pointer trimmed PC's lead to twelve, at 54-42, six minutes in, but that was as close as the Bears would come. Xavier answered with a jumper, Randall Hanke (11 points, 5 rebounds in 18 minutes) had a dunk and a layup, and Xavier banged home a three to open up a 63-42 lead.
That would do it for Maine. The Friars and Bears traded baskets over the final ten minutes, and 75-59 would be as close as Maine would get. Providence closed with Xavier free throws, a Kale layup, a Marshon Brooks slam and a long Kale baseline jumper.
For the second consecutive game, no Friar logged thirty minutes. With the short eight man rotation, the staff is intent on keeping legs fresh. "Its's not necessarily by design that we're keeping them under thirty," commented Davis. "Last year, my Drake team had three guys that were laying 35, 37, 38 minutes, but what you see is when your reserves, guys six, seven, eight, are playing so well, Marshon, Jeff Xavier, Randall, coming off the bench, that you're able to do even better with your position when someone is coming in and doing well. Sometimes those players are asking out, they're working so hard, running the court, playing defense." In addition, Sharaud Curry handed out 7 assists but played only ten second half minutes, as the coaches chose to limit his wear and tear in this three game stretch. In yet another concession, PC played little full court pressure defense, preferring to show it and then drop back into its halfcourt defense, another move to conserve energy.
For the game, PC shot 51%, outrebounded Maine 38-28, and committed just ten turnovers. The Friars did have 22 points off of turnovers, and hit 9-27 three pointers. Free throws continue to be a major concern, as the Friars hit just 12-19, with McDermott shooting 3-8 and Hanke hitting 1-3. In player personnel news, Alex Kellogg saw his first action of the regular season, logging four minutes in the first half.
"In four games, we've seen a lot of different styles, we've seen a lot of different schemes," Davis said. "Where sometimes you play your first four games and you see four teams play drop-back man defense, never switching, never doing anything unique, and all of a sudden, someone jumps in with a different defense and you're not ready for it. Because of our ability to shoot and put points up, teams have done different things and that should really help us."
"Our guys have been very focused," concluded Davis. "That's helped us win these three games. They didn't mention the trip until after this game. I think that's where the Northeastern game may have helped us. Sometimes a loss can focus you."
Friars Run Past Maine, 83-62
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