It wasn't pretty, but it was a Big East victory. The Providence College Friars rallied from an ugly first half to beat the Villanova Wildcats, 69-66, in front of 10,859 fans at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence.
Almost seven minutes into the game, the Friars only had two points. During that time, PC missed all six of their free throws attempted. It was as ugly as ugly could get.
Fortunately, Villanova struggled out of the gate as well. JayVaughn Pinkston was the only Wildcat putting the ball in the basket consistently. Pinkston scored 10 of Villanova's first 13 points.
At the half, Villanova led only, 31-24, despite the Friars shooting only 18% from the field and 55% from the line.
In the second half, the Friars continued a trend of coming out in a more aggressive full-court pressing style. Villanova struggled to adjust. They committed seven turnovers on their first twelve possessions of the half. Freshman Kris Dunn looked in his element with the frenetic style.
With 15:23 left in the game, Bryce Cotton hit a mid-range jumper, assisted by Dunn, which tied the game, 35-35. The game would stay within two points for the next ten minutes.
The Friars would fall behind by four with 5:44 left before the Friars pushed through with one last final run. Suddenly, the Friars started making their free throws. Sidiki Johnson would gather control of a loose ball under the basket and slam it home. Bryce Cotton, the Big East's leading scorer, nailed a three-pointer with 1:04 left. When Kris Dunn picked up a loose ball at midcourt and raced for a slam dunk, it seemed the game was over. The crowd at the Dunk was as loud as it's been this season. The Friars had an eight point lead, 65-57, with 43 seconds left.
But then the Friars inexperience and immaturity raised its ugly head. Following a Villanova three-pointer, Kris Dunn elbowed a defender to the ground after being trapped in the corner. A technical was given to Dunn. Coach Ed Cooley's suit jacket came off as he argued the call. Villanova was awarded two free throws, followed by possession of the ball. In a perfect (Villanova) world, they would make the two free throws and nail a three to tie the game.
Ryan Arcidiacono made the two free throws, but Damun Hilliard's three-pointer was off the mark. Kris Dunn and Bryce Cotton, each, would hit one of two free throws after that series of events and it was just enough for the 69-66 victory.
Bryce Cotton led the way, as usual, for the Friars with 24 points. He did struggle, though, from the perimeter, shooting only 2-of-9 from three-point range. Most of his scoring came on layups.
Kris Dunn brought some good energy, but was careless with the ball at times--- making a couple unwarranted style-point type pass attempts. He did finish with 13 points and 7 rebounds. Once his body fills out and he learns how to finish more consistently around the basket, he will be an explosive multi-dimensional offensive threat and a pest on defense.
The Friars appeared to play their best when Sidiki Johnson was on the court. The Arizona transfer only had four points, but, more importantly, had seven rebounds and two steals in only 19 minutes of playing time. On the negative side, he was 0-for-6 from the free throw line.
Johnson and Kadeem Batts were very effective in jumping out on traps near the half-court line. Their length and athleticism caused problems for the Villanova ball handlers. Batts finished with seven points, including a couple of nice low post conversions, and seven rebounds.
Vincent Council has struggled to round into form after battling injuries in December. He seemed to settle down a bit in the second half, finishing with 15 points and 5 assists before fouling out.
LaDontae Henton had an off-night. Consistency has been hard to find for Henton this year after having a breakout season last year. Henton finished tonight with only six points on 1-for-7 shooting. Even more troubling was Henton's defense. It appeared Ed Cooley gave him an earful during one timeout about Henton's lack of footwork and grit on defense. Henton was in foul trouble all night.
Freshman Joshua Fortune was a non-factor, being held scoreless in sixteen minutes. Fortune has seen his role diminish more and more after getting a lot of playing time earlier in the season out of necessity. He has now been held scoreless in three of his last five games after scoring in double figures five times in December.
Personally, I'd like to see the Friars come out pressing aggressively from the opening jumpball. Maybe Cooley doesn't think his team is conditioned to play that style for a full forty minutes.
Their best lineup appears to be Council, Cotton, Dunn, Batts, and Sidiki Johnson. I don't think Cooley plays Johnson enough. Henton and Fortune are more than adequate scorers to have come off the bench.
This team does not have the shooters to play a half-court style. Their best chance is to use their athleticism to get easy scoring chances by causing havoc in the backcourt.
The Friars move to 10-8 on the season, 2-4 in the Big East. They next play Tuesday night at the Dunk at 7 p.m. against the Pittsburgh Panthers (15-4, 3-3).