The Providence College Friars arrived in Syracuse Wednesday night riding high on the heels of a four-game winning streak. They leave a humbled a team following an 84-59 drubbing.
The Friars showed that they weren't ready for prime time. The atmosphere in Syracuse is not quite the same as playing at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence or Villanova or the University of South Florida. It's a whole other animal. Nothing can prepare you to play before 35,000 loud, hostile fans. The Friars were playing in a house that hasn't seen their home team lose in its last 37 tries. To top it all off, the game was going to be nationally televised-- something the Friars haven't been accustomed to.
The Friars came into Syracuse ready to make a statement. For the first time in a long time, whispers of NIT, or even NCAA, were being heard. And for the first ten minutes, the Friars played 8th-ranked Syracuse even. With 9:33 left in the first half, the Friars were tied, 12-12. But that's when the wheels came off the train. The Orange finished the half on a 31-4 run. James Southerland came off the bench to ignite the run and score 14 points. Southerland had only recently been reinstated after missing a month due to academic issues. It was poor timing for the Friars.
Early in the game, senior point guard Vincent Council passed Sherman Douglas for the most career assists in Big East history. With the Big East possibly dissolving, it will be a record that will never be broken.
The Friars had no answers to halt Syracuse's run. PC was 0-for-6 in the first half shooting three-pointers. Syracuse, meanwhile, shot 63% from the field in the first half. Providence's leading scorer, Bryce Cotton, only had two points at the half. The Friars trailed, 43-16, at intermission.
To the Friars' credit, they didn't give up in the second half. Vincent Council, in particular, was a one-man wrecking crew. He put on a passing clinic, finishing with seven assists. He was in the face of Syracuse ball handlers in the backcourt. His backcourt steal and layup with 8:53 left in the game cut the Syracuse lead to 63-45. The Friars would cut the lead to 16, but that was as close as they got.
LaDontae Henton played like he belonged with the big boys. He finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds. He was tenacious on the boards.
Freshman Kris Dunn was his typical pest on defense. It's encouraging that he didn't seem intimidated by the big stage.
Bryce Cotton had one of his worst games of the season. Cotton finished with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting. Give Syracuse credit for clamping down on him and forcing other guys to beat them. Cotton was 2-for-9 from three-point range. It continues a disturbing trend for Cotton as he is now 8-of-31 (25.8%) from 3-point range over the last four games. Cotton has been a 40% three-point shooter all season. Cotton, who has averaged 20.4 points per game, hasn't scored 20 points or more in a game since January 22.
Providence has four games left in the regular season. There is some positive to come out of this game. For thirty-one minutes, the Friars played even with one of the best teams in the country on their home court. The other nine minutes were really bad, though. But the team did not quit. And now they know how much they need to step up their games if they hope to make a postseason tournament.
Providence (14-12 overall, 6-8 in the Big East) next plays at Rutgers (13-12, 4-10) on Saturday at 9 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.