The last time that PC played a game in Alumni Hall was way back in 1978 when the Friars hosted the Soviet National Team in a midseason exhibition. Thirty-one years later, PC returned to the site of some of the program's greatest games, as the school chose to open the season on campus.
Local television was cancelled at the last minute due to logistical reasons, but 2,017 exuberant fans were able to get a sense of what a homecourt advantage Alumni Hall must have been in its heyday.
These Friars do not resemble the wildly successful, nationally ranked teams of the 1960's, and are a work in progress. It's not often that a team scores 97 points, yet fault can be found in its shooting.
The Friars hoisted a mind-boggling 91 shots – 55 in the first half alone – and pulled down a huge number of rebounds, 68 in all and 35 on the offensive boards. And that was playing without Jamine "Greedy" Peterson, who sat out to rest up from some non-serious bangs and bruises.
There were reasons for these otherworldly numbers. For one, the referees called almost fifty fouls in the game, thereby slowing the pace and creating more possessions. And these were not ticky-tack fouls… most were deserved. For another, PC missed a ton of inside layup attempts, creating rebound opportunities.
Rebound opportunities clearly benefited Providence against a smaller Merrimack team. The Friars outscored the Warriors 31-7 on second chance points, and center Bilal Dixon enjoyed his best showing as a collegian, with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Of those, he racked up 13 and 10 in the first half. Dixon was a monster on the glass, and finally exhibited a couple of nice, back to the basket drop-step power moves.
In addition, Russ Permenter contributed 9 rebounds, to go along with 8 points in just ten minutes. Permenter, when in, hustled and played aggressively, controlling the boards as well as Dixon did. One of the mysteries of the game was that the Texan did not enter the contest until just seven minutes remained in the first half.
But, oh the shooting. In the first half, Providence exhibited poor shot selection, missed wide open looks, bricked bunnies at the rim, shot too quickly in the possession clock, and played sloppily on offense. That led to some ugly numbers. The Friars racked up 48 points, but shot just 19-55 in the half, just 2-16 from three and a poor 8-15 from the foul line. Combined, Marshon Brooks and Dixon shot 13-24 for the half; everyone shot just 6-35, including Sharaud Curry (1-8), whose shot selection was decidedly un-Sharaud-like. "Shot selection is high on the list of things to improve," said Keno Davis.
Despite shooting so poorly, the Friars led 48-39 at the break on the back of rebounding and second chance opportunities. PC also displayed a quick, aggressive man-to-man defense that stifled Merrimack at every turn. Only Darren Duncan was able to keep the Warriors close, with short jumpers and foul shots. In fact, Merrimack attempted 27 first half free throws, making 19.
PC tightened things up a bit in the second half and pulled away from the Warriors. Brooks, who would finish with 33 points, made the game look easy with drives to the basket, floaters, jams and layins. Curry's shooting eye – and decision making – improved, as he finished with 15 points and hit 4-7 in the second half. Vincent Council impressed throughout the contest. If Council improves his shooting, he has a chance to be an all-league performer before he's through. He shot 2-7 and finished with 6 points, but he knows how to run a team, when to slow it down and when to attack the basket. With 7 assists, no turnovers and 2 steals in 22 minutes, Council contributes in many ways and is fundamentally sound. And, his presence allows Curry to play off the ball.
The Friars may improve their offensive efficiency when Peterson returns, because he plays well with Dixon and allows Dixon more freedom in his game. James Still continues to improve, and was effective, hitting two midrange jumpers for 4 points, pulling down 3 rebounds and blocking three shots. He plays with an edge and should develop into a quality big for the Friars.
As with any game, there were some disappointments. Kyle Wright shot 1-5 and 0-1 from three, missed a driving layup and got into foul trouble. He did pull down 7 boards, but he continues to struggle with his shooting. Kadeem Batts looks like a player and certainly has potential, but also shot 1-5, missed several inside looks and struggled to control the boards in just 11 minutes. He is a player who does not have a developed offensive game. Johnnie Lacy shot 0-5, had one assist and 6 turnovers in 18 minutes, as he missed several driving layup attempts and continued to dribble into trouble and get caught in the air. Duke Mondy shot just 1-6 and was guilty of a quick trigger. And Brian McKenzie played solidly, hitting 2-3 threes, but in general did not assert himself.
One of the things that clearly bothered Keno Davis in this foulfest, was a lack of adjustment by his team to the way the game was being called. "Our players have to adjust to that," said Davis. "We didn't adapt as quickly as a veteran team, and our guys have to learn when to get their hands off."
PC will use this next week to improve. "One thing that you'll see is Sharaud handling the ball more than he did today. We can really run now with three quick points, so our wings have to learn to run the court. Every day you see something new but it's the new guys. Guys like Marshon, Sharaud, Brian, you know what you're going to get, but the new guys show me something different every day. Vincent has been the most consistent of the newcomers. Its good to have a chance to see what these guys can do now because once Peterson is back in the mix, the newcomers' minutes will come down."
NOTES: Brooks landed awkwardly after a layup midway through the second half and hobbled off the court with an injured ankle. He left the gym, but returned two minutes later and went back into the game, displaying no ill effects… Recruit Vaughn Gray from New Jersey attended the game… starting lineup for both halves was Brooks, Curry, Council, McKenzie and Dixon… Friars had ten blocks and ten steals, with Duke Mondy, Curry and Council each recording two steals… a beautiful day in Rhode Island resulted in a very warm Alumni Hall. Heat rises, and sitting up top provided a great view but a sweat-filled afternoon.
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