The Friars maintained a healthy lead throughout most of the game, staying ahead of South Florida with some balanced scoring and a healthy transition game. Three Friars scored over twenty points and Vincent Council put up 17 as well.
It's well established that Providence generally doesn't have problems scoring the ball, but this Providence team rarely plays good defense, and with the exception of a few short stretches in the first half, it was clear to most that a winning outcome vs. USF would have to be one of those "outrun the opponent" wins for the Friars. That looked like a pretty good bet too. The problem is that something got in the way of that.
In the last two minutes, South Florida began fouling Providence and denying Sharaud Curry the ball, sending Vincent Council to the line twice. The freshman made only one of four attempts in crunch time, and USF grabbed the rebounds and turned them into instant baskets at the other end.
Despite Providence leading by 9 points with 49 seconds to go on a Council lay up, USF converted on five straight possessions in the final minutes, including two 3 point shots, the last one being the basket that sent the game into overtime. It frankly was a comedy of errors and poor play down the stretch that let the Bulls steal this game.
There isn't a whole lot of value in dissecting how Providence failed to execute and pull out the win. Had USF's last second three not gone down giving the Friars the win, many would have said that the team would have learned more from a painful loss. The reason for that is the sorry state of Providence's defense, and that poor defense is simply something that can't be overlooked anymore.
South Florida is not a great team, and was playing short handed on the road, yet they still scored 95 points in Providence. That's simply unacceptable and Keno Davis admitted as much. This Providence loss, more than anything, may have busted the myth that the Friars have enough offense to be relatively competitive in the Big East. They make too many mistakes and have too many shortcomings overall to do that. Providence gives up dunks and lay ups at such an alarming rate, it sometimes appears like one is watching an all-star exhibition contest.
Beginning on Wednesday against UConn, the Friars begin a gauntlet of eight games where they will be significant underdogs. All these Big East teams have better offenses than USF, and the Friars, who scored 105 in the loss, still didn't have enough firepower to win the game against the Bulls. How ugly will the next eight games be without a shakeup?
A new approach is clearly needed. It may take a few games to begin paying dividends, but Keno Davis needs to play the best defensive players a lot more in the hopes of taking other teams out of their rhythm and force them to make tough shots. If that means some bad losses while the team adjusts to the new focus, we doubt many of the Friar faithful will have a problem with it if the defense shows some steady improvement over time.
The bottom line is that the Providence staff has to demonstrate that they value the defensive end of the game as much as offensive firepower, and that they are willing to sit the players who won't or can't play it with some level of competence. It is essential that this lesson be learned in order for the program to move forward in the future with any real success. That may ruffle some feathers, but it is in the best interest of the program for the long haul.
The opportunity to chart a slightly new course begins on Wednesday against Connecticut.