For fifteen minutes the Providence College Friars showed flashes of the promise for what they could become in the very near future. For fifteen minutes, the Friars had the no. 7 team in the country on the ropes.
Unfortunately, college basketball is a forty minute game. The Friars lost to Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orangemen, 72-66. The 11,121 fans at the Dunkin' Donuts Center witnessed a bit of sad history as it represents the last time Syracuse comes to Providence as a member of the Big East. Syracuse and Providence were two of the original Big East members when the league was founded in 1979. Jim Boeheim has been Syracuse's head coach the whole time, and then some.
"We've been coming here for 34 years. That's a lot of history," Boeheim said. "Every one of these games is a little bit of sadness for me."
The first fifteen minutes of the game brought even more sadness to Boeheim. The Friars raced out to a 26-21 lead with 7:24 left in the first half thanks to the hot shooting of Bryce Cotton. At that point, Cotton was 5-for-5 from three-point range and 6-for-6 overall for 17 points. With 4:49 left in the half, the Friars had extended their lead to 33-24.
Then, inexplicably, the Friars offense grew stagnant. There was too much standing around on offense, trying to kill the clock. It was way too early for that. The energy seemed to be sapped from the team and the crowd.
The Friars did a terrible job of closing out the half. Syracuse scored the last six points to close the gap to 33-30 at the half.
At halftime, you just knew which direction this game was headed. The Friars wouldn't be able to sustain their torrid shooting. The Orange length became a major problem in the second half. The Friars no longer got many clean looks. More importantly, Syracuse began imposing their will on the boards. Second, and third, and fourth chance opportunities killed the Friars. Syracuse outrebounded the Friars, 16-8 on the offensive boards and 36-22 overall.
When Syracuse took a 47-43 lead with 11:24 left in the game, the four-point lead seemed like an insurmountable twenty-point lead. Even the crowd at the Dunk began turning into a home crowd for the Syracuse faithful that made the five-hour trek to Providence. "Let's Go Orange" chants began raining down on the court from the upper decks.
Providence would close to one point a few times, but never regained the lead. A few too many missed free throws hurt Providence. They were 15-for-23 (65.2%) while Syracuse only missed a single free throw out of eighteen (94.4%).
There were promising signs. Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson started at center and provided the best interior presence, both on offense and defense, for the Friars. Johnson finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds, five of them on the offensive boards. He was on the bench, and Lee Goldsbrough was in the game for the pivotal final few minute stretch of the first half.
It is nice to see Cotton (21.5 points per game average) playing so well after struggling with a knee injury. Cotton finished with 24 points, but struggled after Syracuse clamped down on him in the second half.
Freshman Josh Fortune continues to impress. He looks like he has unlimited range and does not fear taking high-pressure shots. Fortune finished with 9 points on three three-pointers.
Kadeem Batts had an off-game, hitting only one of eight shots. LaDontae Henton, who is averaging 15.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, came up small in this one. Henton scored 10 points and only had two rebounds. Batts and Henton need to crash the boards harder for the Friars to be effect in the soon-to-be-defunct Big East.
Freshman Kris Dunn played only nine minutes as it appears he is still struggling with a shoulder injury. He also seems to be playing out of position at small forward. He does not have the bulk (6'3", 180 lbs.) at this time to play other, bulkier 6'5" small forwards.
The Friars (8-7, 0-3 in the Big East) next play at Seton Hall (12-4, 1-2) on Sunday, January 13 at noon.