Playing hard and playing well are two different things, and for forty minutes, Providence played hard, but hardly played well. Truth be told, on this particular night, the game could have been a hundred and forty minutes, and the Friars would not have caught Iona.
"I never felt like our guys weren't giving a great effort," said coach Keno Davis after the worst loss in his two years at PC. "I just felt that they weren't playing as smart and as intelligently as they needed to. I've got to be frustrated with that but still understand that it's a part of being a young team."
In this game, PC never led. From the opening jump to the closing horn, the Friars never had the lead. PC scrapped, hit the boards and hustled, but played very little offense and even less defense. Iona, a team that starts two freshmen and a sophomore, actually runs a similar system to the Friars. The Gaels like to press on defense and run on offense, but under Kevin Willard, Iona looked infinitely smoother and more efficient.
Early on, Iona opened the game with a three pointer by Dwight Rashon and jumped out to a 7-2 lead, before a three by Kyle Wright knotted the score. But, in a move that foreshadowed the entire game, as soon as PC drew close, Iona spurted again, running off seven points. PC stayed close for most of the first half, drawing within 16-15 before falling behind 26-17, and in the final three minutes of the half, PC seemed to be taking control for the first time. Two Jamine Peterson free throws pulled PC within 27-26, but free throws moved Iona back out in front 33-28 with :39 left. Two Sharaud Curry charity tosses cut the lead to three, and PC was fortunate to head into the half down just three, at 33-30.
In the first half, the Friars had hit just 8-29 field goals, including 3-15 from three. Only 11-14 from the free throw line had kept them close. PC's press was being shredded by Iona's guards, who were turning the game into a lay-up drill, and the Friars had forced just four turnovers.
The second half played eerily like the first. Over the first ten minutes, Iona's biggest lead was six points, while the closest PC could draw within was two points, at 47-45 after Bilal Dixon free throws. If there was a turning point, it came at the ten minute mark. Two free throws by Curry made it 53-50 and after an Iona miss, Johnnie Lacy missed a three. Peterson rebounded and missed a three. Duke Mondy rebounded and fed Peterson who badly missed a lay-up, and Scott Machado raced down-court and scored on a lay-up.
In the final ten minutes, PC would draw within 61-56 on a Marshon Brooks three point play with seven minutes left, before Iona answered with a wide open Jonathan Huffman dunk, followed by Huffman free throws. The last gasp came with the Friars down six, and after Machado free throws, Curry missed a jumper, Peterson came up with a steal, but Vincent Council badly missed a lay-up attempt.
With three minutes to go, Iona's lead reached double digits and the Friars were done. The Gaels' lead peaked at 80-67 after Kyle Smyth free throws, and a couple of garbage lay-ups by Brooks down the stretch accounted for the final 82-73 margin.
There were a number of disturbing aspects to this loss. For one, the Friars ran little in the way of offense. At the half, PC had four assists and finished the game with just six, both coming in the final minutes. Twelve minutes into the second half, and PC had just three field goals. PC's offense consisted of quick three point attempts (the Friars hit just 5-31 for the game) or one on one drives to the basket. There was very little passing, no flow, very little teamwork, and when the Friars did pass the ball around the perimeter, looking for an open shot, they missed. "We shouldn't rely on the three so much," said Keno Davis. "I don't mind if they're going in. If they're going in, by all means, keep shooting them. But if they're not, we have to find other ways to score. Every time we drove the ball, something good happened. Iona played very physically, and we got to the line 39 times, but I felt we could have done better."
On defense, PC persisted in pressing Iona, a team that clearly relished being pressed. The Gaels raced to the basket against helpless Friar defenders, found open looks for threes and made use of a midrange game that had PC defenders a step late. Smyth, in particular, was an impressive freshman sniper, scoring 21 points on 6-8 shooting, while Machado and Rashon chipped in 14 apiece. The Gaels shot 48% for the game and 42% from three.
For the Friars, there were two bright spots, team-wise. PC hammered the boards to a 46-33 advantage, including 17-4 on the offensive glass, and the Friars got to the free throw line 39 times, hitting 28. But PC shot just 31% for the game and really struggled to make shots. With the refs calling a poor game both ways, there was little flow to the game as the whistles blew on seemingly every possession. Fifty-four fouls were called and fifty-seven free throws were shot, with Iona hitting 29-38.
Council played perhaps his worst game as a Friar, shooting 0-6, with 3 turnovers in 19 minutes as he and Curry had problems with Iona's press. Brooks was very quiet until near the end, when the game was lost, and led PC with 18 points on 7-14 shooting. Both Council and Brooks can be excused though, because both have been under the weather with the flu.
Peterson scored 13 points and had 14 rebounds, but poor shooting marred his day, as he shot 4-15 and 1-7 from three. He missed shots both near and far. Dixon committed no fouls but recorded just 5 points and 4 rebounds, while Curry suffered through an all-too-familiar 1-7 shooting night, including 0-5 from three. The only Friars who played well were Wright in the early part of the game (8 points, two early threes), Brian McKenzie, who played hard with 7 points and 7 tough rebounds and Lacy, who scored 9 points on drives to the hoop, but was 0-3 from three.
So was it fatigue and the effects of playing four games in eight days, two on the road? Keno Davis did not want to use that as an excuse, but clearly he felt that way. "I hate saying stuff like that because it sounds like an excuse and Iona deserves credit," said Davis. "But that's just bad scheduling. Scheduling is important and four games in eight days is bad scheduling especially with a good team coming in as the last game. If this happens again down the road, you can blame me."
The Friars will now hit the books for final exams and do not return to action until they play Yale on December 21 in the final out of conference game of the season. They'll have plenty of time to stew over this loss and to work on improving. "You'd prefer to go into a break on a win," said Davis. "But sometimes you can accomplish more off a loss. I think I'll have this team's attention now and we'll get in some intense hour and a half practices."
Gaels Blow Past Friars, 82-73
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