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PROVIDENCE â€“ No matter how you slice it, Providenceâ€™s 79-76 defeat to Big East bottom feeder DePaul was a tough pill for Keno Davis and the Friars to swallow.
Davisâ€™ post game press conference was far from a ray of sunshine, as the third-year coach sat silent at the podium for several minutes before trying to explain what has to be the Friarsâ€™ most disheartening loss of the season â€“ one coming against a DePaul outfit that coming had had dropped 25 consecutive Big East games.
â€śItâ€™s a tough lesson for a young team to learn,â€ť said a clearly shell-shocked Davis.
The head coach had thought his Friars had turned the corner after dropping three straight on the road last month, and wins against nationally-ranked foes Louisville and Villanova helped support Davisâ€™ theory. Then came Thursday nightâ€™s developments, which proved that the Friars â€“ as painfully young as they are made out to be â€“ still have plenty of lessons to learn.
â€śWeâ€™ll learn this lesson together and as a coach I will try to become a better coach and put them in a better position to play better,â€ť said Davis, sounding more a politician pledging promises on the campaign trail rather than a basketball coach.
To Davisâ€™ credit, he dismissed the uncertainty surrounding whether Gerard Coleman would be back and the fact senior Marshon Brooks did not start as two prime reasons why the Friars spent most of the first half in a daze. PC shot just 36 percent in the opening half to trail by 39-29 at the break. Coleman was cleared to play hours before Thursdayâ€™s 9 oâ€™clock start after missing Sundayâ€™s loss at UConn.
â€śYou could look to that, but we talked at length in the locker room to not make excuses about who we have and who we donâ€™t have,â€ť said Davis. â€śWe canâ€™t make excuses and I canâ€™t start making those excuses because we have to become tougher than that. Bringing those things to the forefront, that only gives them a crutch. We need to come together as a team and realize that we canâ€™t get this game back, but we can learn a lesson going forward about how we work and what weâ€™re about.â€ť
Davis chose to pocket his remaining timeout with PC trailing 77-76 with less than 10 seconds remaining. With everyone in the building expecting Brooks (game-best 28 points) to take the last shot, the senior chose to shovel a pass to Coleman with four seconds remaining. Knowing that Coleman is a streaky shooter from the outside, DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell chose to have the Blue Demons sag back, resulting a deflection by Brandon Young and a steal by Jeremiah Kelly, a winning combination for a Blue Demon program that could be heard yelling and screaming in the locker room afterwards.
â€śWe were afraid (Brooks) was going to slip to the basket and had to make sure we got it out of his hands,â€ť Purnell said. â€śWe did and he hit (Coleman) and we did a great of not closing all the way out on him. Heâ€™s not that great of a 3-point shooter; he put it down and Brandon made a play at the end to preserve the win.â€ť
A win that has DePaul believing that it gain some significant traction as teams start to make the turn for Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament. The Friars can only hope this loss is a mere pothole and nothing that cuts deeper.