At the beginning of March, the Friars found themselves in a position they hadn't been in since 2009 …
Friars Take The Broom To Seton Hall
To be sure, the schedule softened a bit after the UConn loss, but the streak has included wins over nationally ranked Notre Dame and Cincinnati. What's improved is team chemistry and above all else, defense.
GLASS CLEANERS: If there is an area where Providence has performed consistently well, it's on the glass. Against Seton Hall, PC outrebounded the Pirates, 40-34 and 14-7 on the offensive glass. This was no mean feat. Seton Hall is big – center Eugene Teague is 6-9, 290 pounds, Aaron Geramipoor stands 6-11 and Brian Oliver is a tough athlete. Yet Kadeem Batts gave as good as he got. Batts repeatedly took it at Teague and Geramispoor, scoring a game high 27 points and grabbing 12 boards. LaDontae Henton chipped in 10 boards and found his way to the foul line 7 times, hitting every free throw. Against most teams, Providence is a tough matchup on the boards.
CHESS GAME: Ed Cooley and Kevin Willard are both excellent bench coaches. Seton Hall hurt PC in the first half by running a double high post set. Teague would flash out to the perimeter to set a screen and when Batts would jump out at the ballhandler, Teague would quickly drop back to the basket for a pass and uncontested layup. Cooley countered by not having his big man leave the post on defense and remaining back to guard the rim, effectively taking the Hall out of that set.
SHOOTING WOES: If there is one area where PC has struggled, even through the wins, it's been in shooting the ball. PC shot 41% for the game and 26% from three. The team excelled from the foul line, hitting 17-22, which was important for the win in this game, but several Friars are struggling badly from the floor.
No one is hurting worse than Henton, who shot 4-14, 0-4 from three. Wide-open three pointers weren't hitting the rim, layup attempts were missing badly and midrange two's were off the mark. Fortunately, his efforts inside were getting him to the line and he finished with 15 points. But there is a crisis of confidence there. In addition, Josh Fortune shot 1-4, 0-3 from three and took some quick shots that were off the mark. Kris Dunn does so many wonderful things on the court, but at this point, shooting isn't one of them. He was 1-5 and had a couple of beautiful moves to the rim that were followed by attempts with little touch.
So far, PC's shooting woes haven't turned wins into losses, but at a point, as the competition improves, it will be difficult to overcome these cold games.
HANGING AROUND: This game had a low-energy, slogging type of feel to it. Providence was ahead for most of the game but could never seem to put the Pirates away. It always felt as if the Friars were up by more than they were and while PC was never really in danger, every time Providence opened what appeared to be a comfortable lead, Seton Hall fought back.
Leading 27-17 with eight minutes to go in the first half, PC settled for a 43-36 halftime lead, largely because they were struggling to get stops. Seton Hall shot 56% in the opening stanza and that included 22 points in the paint. While PC allowed 8 threes for the game (Ed Cooley called that "a big number"), PC's defense tightened in the second half. The Friars still struggled to put the Hall away, though, due to its own offensive struggles.
A seemingly safe 71-57 lead with four to play was trimmed to 71-64 in a minute and a half. PC finally iced the game on a three by Bryce Cotton (15 points, 5-10 shooting, 4-8 threes).
LOOKING AHEAD: The regular season finale looms at noon on Saturday against Connecticut at Gampel Pavilion. In many ways, this is a critical game for the Friars.
PC finished the Big East season 5-4 at home and currently stand 4-4 on the road. For Connecticut, this will be their final game of the season, win or lose, and likely their final game ever as a member of the Big East Conference. The Huskies are bruised and battered, but this will be Senior Day and they, along with their fans, should be amped for this game, which, for all intents and purposes is their postseason tournament.
For the Friars, real postseason tournaments play in their thoughts and hopes. With a win, PC positions itself well heading into the Big East Tournament and can still dream about landing firmly on the right side of the NCAA bubble. With a loss, there will be much work to be done in New York, but PC seems assured of at least an NIT bid and hopefully, a high seed, which would bring a home game. Saturday's rivalry game carries many storylines, but Providence hopes to write a happy ending.
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