Providence terrorized the 2-2 Catamounts from the opening tap and never took their collective foot off the pedal as the Friars exorcized the memory of their tough loss at Alabama over the weekend. Vincent Council stepped into the starting lineup in place of Sharaud Curry and the Friar offense ran smoothly from the get-go.
The Friars jumped out to an early lead behind a lay-up and three pointer by Jamine Peterson, but the Cats hung tough and two buckets by Maurice Joseph narrowed the lead to 13-11. At that point, PC ran off eight straight points, sparked by a three by Marshon Brooks and a lay-up by Duke Mondy to build a double digit lead. With ten minutes left in the first half, the game was essentially over. PC built 18 point leads at 33-15 after a Brian McKenzie three and 38-20 after a Brooks three, and took their first twenty point lead on a midrange Brooks jumper with four minutes left.
From there, PC cruised to halftime, outscoring Vermont 13-4, behind baskets by Council, Brooks, a three point play by Curry and a last second three by Mondy. Leading 56-26 at the break, the only worry was a second half letdown. Led by Brooks' 17 points, Providence had banged home 9-15 threes and had racked up 12 steals against the beleaguered Catamount backcourt.
"We needed to force tempo," said Keno Davis. "We knew Vermont wanted to play in the half-court. They're very dangerous in the half-court, so our ability to keep intensity up was key. The more each team had to go to its bench, the more it favored us."
The second half brought no letdown from Providence and essentially turned into twenty minutes of garbage time. PC scored the first eight points of the half and led 71-30 after two free throws by Peterson with sixteen minutes to play. Over the final twelve minutes, the Friars' lead never dipped below forty points, as player after player stayed hot and drilled shots. A layup by Kyle Wright pushed PC over 100 points (101-54) with 3:57 to go, and a three point play by Johnnie Lacy and a lay-up by Russ Permenter closed the Friars scoring.
Vermont had defeated Rutgers, 77-71, and the Catamounts are not without talent. Marqus Blakely stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 5 steals, but also committed 9 turnovers and spent much of the first half throwing elbows at the nearest PC defender. Still, he's a player who would be comfortable on a Big East roster. Joseph added 14 points, but Vermont's backcourt was overmatched athletically.
Providence out-rebounded Vermont 52-32, including 23-13 on the offensive glass, had 19 steals, and shot 15-27 from three and 17-24 from the foul line. The Friars scored 33 points off turnovers, had 22 second chance points and 15 fast break points. Brooks was unstoppable, and notched 24 points and 5 steals on 8-10 shooting and 4-5 threes, Peterson had 20 points and 5 rebounds on 3-3 threes, and Wright scored 13 points on 3-4 threes. Curry clearly is struggling with his outside shot but compensated by taking the ball inside more and finished with 9 points and 5 assists. "Sharaud was sick before the Alabama game and missed a couple of practices," said Davis.
PC played man to man defense for the entire game and gave Vermont fits with its full court and half court pressure and traps. The Cats had trouble in-bounding the ball on multiple possessions, and once inbounds, had trouble advancing the ball against a swarming Friar defense. "We're going to continue to work in practice on both man and zone," said Davis.
Keys to the Friars win was the defensive intensity, an much improved movement of the ball on offense, penetration and kick-outs by Council and Curry, hot shooting, and getting to the free throw line. PC shot 27 threes, but most came within the context of the offense, as shot selection was much improved. "We've got to get to the free throw line, especially when we're not shooting well" Davis commented. "When our leading guy with free throw attempts has five, that's not good enough. I need guys who can get to the line eight, nine times a game."
The Friars will return to action on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Dunk against ACC foe Boston College, as PC looks to build on its 4-1 start with a quality win over the Eagles. If PC continues to play as it did against Vermont, the young Friars will be tough.
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