Friars Fall To Miami In NIT

And then it was over. A season in which Providence College won 19 games, finished in the top half of the Big East with ten wins, grabbed a win in the Big East Tournament, defeated the number one team in the nation, and stayed in the NCAA Tournament bubble talk until the end. Just as suddenly, it all ended.

In the end, the University of Miami was just a little too good and Jack McClinton was just a little too much for 19-14 Providence to handle, especially with an injured Weyinmi Efejuku. The Hurricanes rolled past PC by a 78-66 count in front of 5,645 fans at the Dunk, and moved on to a second round NIT date at Florida.

In a way, it was almost as if Providence never really got started, going the first five minutes of the game without a field goal, and a stretch of eight minutes in the final ten minutes of the game also without a field goal.

It wasn't that Providence suffered from a "I don't want to be here in the NIT" meltdown. The Friars, by all accounts, were excited to play, and put forth a game effort, battling back from a consistent deficit that resulted from the fact that they never led in the entire game. As Randall Hanke put it, "We were excited to play. We just didn't play very well."

Basically, Providence morphed into the team that they are… a team that is good enough to beat other teams not as good as they are, but one that struggles against more physically talented teams. And Miami was a very good team, especially with McClinton healthy again. Down the stretch and against Virginia Tech, Miami did not play well, but McClinton was bothered by a sore left knee. Against PC, the senior guard looked more than healthy. "My knee felt great," said McClinton. "I'd say its back to 85-90%."

The Friars dug themselves a fatal early hole, and one that grew too deep to come all the way back from. By the time Marshon Brooks hit PC's first field goal, a short jumper from the left, the Friars were down 11-4. By the ten minute mark, Miami had built a 21-10 lead after a McClinton three and a Dwayne Collins jumper. The lead peaked at 28-16 with five minutes left after a Brian Asbury (9 points) layup.

At that point, Providence came out of its matchup zone and attacked Miami with full-court ball pressure, and the Canes came slightly unraveled. Over the final five minutes, PC created turnovers and outscored Miami 12-5 on tough inside play by Jonathan Kale (11 points, 9 rebounds) and a three point bomb by Jeff Xavier. After Xavier missed on another three, the Friars forced a turnover by Collins and had a chance to cut Miami's 33-28 lead by more, but Sharaud Curry missed on a three-quarter court shot.

"We were trying to stay with McClinton in man to man," said Keno Davis. "If you stay in zone, he can knock you out of it."

The Friars were smoked on the boards in the first half, by a 26-15 count, and were especially hurt on the offensive glass, as Miami picked off 11 offensive rebounds, and scored twelve second chance points. PC simply was not boxing out or putting a body on Miami's frontcourt players, was not shooting well (32%, 2-11 from three), and PC was very fortunate to be within five at the half. About all that had saved PC at that point was Miami's 12 turnovers and 36% shooting of their own.

"We did not play our best game," said Davis. "We struggled to get going."

PC stayed in man and with pressure in the second half, but Miami gradually began to get comfortable and began racing through the defense for easy baskets, but not before the Friars made it interesting. Weyinmi Efejuku (16 points, but only seven field goal attempts) had been poked in the same eye twice midway through the first half and had spent the final eight minutes on the bench, being treated. Some doubted his return after halftime, but he started the half by driving to the basket and converting free throws to keep PC close.

"I haven't spoken to the trainer yet, but I am so impressed with Weyinmi's toughness," said Davis. "I don't think it was a sure thing that he could play in the second half, but there he was."

Yet, every time PC pulled within three or four points, a Hurricane stepped up and hit a big shot. Three pointers by James Dews (8 points), Jack McClinton (seven three pointers, 25 points), coupled with drives and free throws by Collins (8 points, 12 rebounds) kept Miami ahead. A three point play by Geoff McDermott cut the lead to 52-49 but Adrian Thomas and Dews answered with hoops. Brian McKenzie (13 points) caught fire and sank four consecutive threes in a three minute span to narrow the lead to 60-55 with just under ten to play, but on McKenzie's next attempt, he barely found the backboard, and PC went cold.

Over the next eight minutes, PC's only points would be from the free throw line, yet the Friars hung close as Miami also missed shots or turned the ball over. Providence had its chances during this stretch but couldn't capitalize. With three and a half minutes left, PC was within 62-58 after a Kale free throw, and 64-60 after a Thomas jumper and Efejuku free throws. Then the Friars luck – and opportunities - ran out as the game turned.

With 2:38 on the clock, McClinton hit a dagger of a three to open up a 67-60 lead, and after a miss by Brooks, McClinton buried another three for a ten point lead. Xavier answered with PC's first field goal in eight minutes, but now there was just a minute and a half left and Asbury answered with a three point play. Curry hit a three point bomb but Asbury hit two free throws, and Curry missed another three point try. Kale was fouled on the offensive grab but missed two free throws, Brooks missed a tip attempt, and with free throws by Lance Hurdle (12 points) and Asbury wrapped around another Curry three point miss, Miami had sealed the deal.

Miami was not a particularly tall team, but was packed with widebodies up front with athleticism. The Canes contested every shot and drive inside and blocked four. Meanwhile, one of the Friars' oldest bugaboos raised its ugly head… PC simply could not get defensive stops in critical situations. Despite Miami's 41% shooting, the Canes hit ten threes, made 18-21 foul shots and scored every time they absolutely needed to. Although PC forced 19 turnovers, the lack of defense, the 33% shooting and getting beat 44-35 on the boards did the Friars in.

The Friars were also caught short by not enough players stepping up. While Kale played a hardnosed game, Efejuku gave his all despite the painful eye injury, and McKenzie had his best game of the season, other Friars were off the mark. Sharaud Curry never got rolling, shooting just 2-8, Jeff Xavier also shot 2-8, Marshon Brooks was just 3-12, and Geoff McDermott was a ghost of himself, with just 5 points, 5 rebounds and one assist. And yet, coach Keno Davis closed his press conference by saying, " I feel we're setting the stage. The seniors have set the stage for the younger players and showed them about winning basketball. There's a good foundation here. They showed that even if they were undermanned, there wasn't any lack of effort. I just wish I could have coached these seniors for another year."

NUMBERS: Because PC was so senior-heavy, the departing Friars leave behind a host of impressive career numbers. Weyinmi Efejuku ended with exactly 1500 points, one of only twelve Friars ever to reach that plateau. Geoff McDermott put up an eye-popping line of 1122 points, 1055 rebounds, 478 assists, 108 blocks and 205 steals. Randall Hanke finished with 1064 points, 472 rebounds and a school record .668 field goal percentage. Jonathan Kale had 734 points and 267 rebounds. Jeff Xavier scored 1430 points, 690 at PC. And, for good measure, Sharaud Curry ended his junior year with 1124 points and 357 assists.

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