Friars Win Tourney, Edge Mercer

Better to win ugly than lose pretty. That's got to be the mantra after the Providence College Friars hung on by their fingernails and captured the World Vision Invitational championship with a 79-77 win over a talented Mercer squad from Georgia.

With both teams coming into Sunday's final game with 2-0 records, and both teams preferring to play at a fast pace, this game figured to be a barn-burner. It certainly ended up that way, but it didn't start out that way.

Providence displayed the same early energy and aggressiveness against Mercer that they did on Friday against Bryant and jumped on the Bears right out of the gate as Marshon Brooks asserted himself early and often. Brooks poured in 22 first half points and knocked down four three-pointers and Jamine Peterson controlled the boards, as PC built an early lead and then battled Mercer evenly until the eight minute mark, when the score was tied at 22-all.

From there, the Friars ramped up their offense and used cold shooting by Mercer to close the half on a 25-10 run, behind a threes by Sharaud Curry and Vincent Council and continued hot shooting by Brooks. PC ended the half with a 47-32 lead that could have been bigger had a short jumper by Brooks not spun out in the final seconds. Even with that, the Friars looked completely in control, while the Bears appeared gassed in their third game in three days.

Providence maintained control in the second half. The Friars were able to control James Florence, and induced four fouls on center Dan Emerson (12 points, 16 rebounds). With Emerson out, PC controlled the glass and scored at will, building a 19 point lead, at 62-43 with just over fourteen minutes to play after a dunk by Bilal Dixon. Although Dixon was also in foul trouble, PC maintained control and still led by 17, 73-56 after a Brian McKenzie three, with ten minutes to play.

At that point, the Friars went stone cold, and over the next three minutes, their 17 point lead shrank to five as Mercer found the range from three, and PC insisted on hoisting up quick threes that missed. Back in the lineup, Emerson cleared the boards and when Dixon fouled out on a questionable call with just over seven minutes to play, there was a sense that PC might be in trouble.

In the final ten minutes of the game, the Bears outscored PC 21-6. The Friars missed their final eleven three-point attempts as they continued to try for the dagger three that might have put the game away. Missed too, were numerous layups and foul shots that might have extended their lead, but Providence never really attacked the basket, or Emerson, who played the final 11 minutes with four fouls. "There were opportunities for all of our players to take it to the basket more than they did," said Keno Davis.

Leading 73-70, Duke Mondy hit the first free throw, and when he missed on the second, Russ Permenter grabbed the rebound and spun in for a layup and a six point lead. Florence scored on a layup that was answered by a Curry layup, and then Jeff Smith drilled a three to make it 78-75 with 1:43 left. After a missed in the lane jumper by Council, two Florence free throws trimmed the lead to one. Brooks was fouled but missed the front end of a one-and-one and Brian Mills missed a three but in the rebounding scrum, Emerson was hacked from behind by Curry. With a chance to put his team ahead, Emerson missed both free throws. Brooks rebounded and Curry was fouled but made just the second for a shaky 79-77 lead with :16 left. E. J. Kusnyer tried a three that was off the mark and then shoved Brooks out of bounds on the rebound. With just 2.9 seconds left and a chance to seal the win, Brooks missed both free throws, giving Mercer one last gasp. The Bears inbounded the ball to Emerson at halfcourt, who turned and fired a pass down the right sideline for Kusnyer, but the ball skidded out of bounds, giving the win to the Friars. "They found a way to win when they couldn't buy a three," said Davis. "Mercer packed it in inside and forced us to take threes. We've got to have the confidence to knock down open shots, but hopefully also recognize that sometimes when you have an open shot, you should drive it."

Brooks, the tournament MVP, finished with 26 points on 10-18 shooting, including 4-8 from three, but was clearly hampered by a combination of leg cramps and an ankle sprain in the second half. "It's incredible that he was able to gut out the second half," said Davis. "He could have had a huge scoring night if he was healthy."

Although both teams denied that fatigue played a part, it seemed clear that both squads were affected by the grind, Mercer in the first half, and PC in the final ten minutes. The Friars misfired badly on long jumpers and left both bunnies and free throws short. Peterson in particular, struggled close to the basket, shooting just 5-20 as he missed a number of layup and alley-oop attempts. On the other hand, Greedy pulled down 22 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards, but struggled to convert. In his showdown with Florence, Curry shot just 1-9 from three, but scored 16 points, as he converted 5-7 from inside the arc. Florence, meanwhile, poured in 23 points, but shot just 7-19, as PC managed to contain him for the most part.

The Friars outrebounded Mercer 55-48, although Emerson controlled the boards down the stretch. Perhaps the most staggering number to come out of the game was that PC committed just three turnovers, incredible considering the pace and the quality of Mercer's guards. In all three games this weekend, though, PC attempted 32 threes (only 7 made against Mercer for 22%) and Providence needs to use the outside shot more judiciously. Along with that, 48% (12-25) from the free throw line won't cut it either. Overall, PC did not shoot the ball well over the latter two games, but 3-0 is 3-0.

The Friars are now off until Friday when they will take to the road against an Alabama team that just lost to a good Cornell team. PC will need the time to rest, heal, and work out the kinks after a grueling weekend.

Recruiting note: Brothers Jarod and Jake Fay, from Brimmer & May, along with Karon Iverson, from Northwest Catholic, took in the thriller, as the Friars continue to bring in top notch recruits to their early season games.

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