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BRIDGEPORT, Ct. â€“ Believe it or not, Providence College and Fairfield actually played a basketball game on Monday night.
Such an important detail can get easily lost in the wash considering the pregame circumstances. On one side of the court stood Ed Cooley, the new PC coach whose previous port of call was Fairfield. On the opposite side of the scorerâ€™s table resided a group of players that Cooley was instrumental in recruiting, among them Pawtucket native Rakim Sanders.
Old feelings were discarded the moment the ball was tossed in the air. The only item that Cooley was concerned with was to win the game, which his Friars did in an 80-72 triumph before a regular-season record crowd of 6,375 at Webster Bank Arena.
The Friars, who were a 7 1/2-point underdog against the mid-major Stags, were buoyed by a three-guard attack that was simply too much for the home team to contend with. Vincent Council amassed a game-best 26 points with Bryce Cotton collecting 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Gerard Coleman rounded out the trioâ€™s banner night with 17 points off the bench.
The only thing that held Sanders back from a bigger night was having to sit out a combined 12 minutes when in a bit of foul trouble. Otherwise it was a banner performance for the senior, who led the Stags with 25 points on 11-of-17 from the floor. Sanders added nine rebounds.
â€śHe looks like a linebacker on roller skates,â€ť said Cooley about Sanders, who scored 13 points in the first half.
The strong performance did little diminish the fact that Sandersâ€™ team lost. â€śIt wasnâ€™t enough because the team wasnâ€™t where it needed to be.â€ť
The Friars, now 2-0, failed to win a road game all last season. Monday was the programâ€™s first road victory since a win at DePaul on Jan. 14, 2010. More importantly, the triumph is a sign that the Friars under Cooley are heading the right direction.
â€śIâ€™ve loved our business approach the past two days,â€ť Cooley said. â€śWeâ€™re growing up.â€ť
Despite trailing the Stags 30-29 at the half, Providence dominated much of the final 20 minutes to spoil Sydney Johnson's first home game at Fairfield. Tied at 37 with about 17 minutes left, the Friars used a 10-0 run to wrestle the game away from the home school.
Fairfield rallied to tie the game at 47-apiece with just under 11 minutes remaining before PC went ahead for good. A 12-2 Friar run broke the game wide open as the visiting teamâ€™s largest lead was 16 points (71-55) as the game approached the four-minute mark.
PC ended up shooting 55 percent for the game while Fairfield hit at a 49-percent clip. The two sides collected 30 rebounds apiece with the Stags committing one more turnover than the Friars, 15-14.
The difference, however, was the ability of Cooleyâ€™s perimeter threats to not only get to the rim, but finish as well. PC scored 44 points in the paint compared to 36 for Fairfield.
â€śWe worked hard for a lot of those points,â€ť noted Cotton.
Moments after the Fairfield fans greeted him with a respectful reception, Cooley watched as the Friars stormed out a 19-6 lead. Sanders watched most of PCâ€™s hot start from the Fairfield bench after picking up two fouls with just 97 seconds gone by.
Seeing that the game was quickly getting away from the Stags, Johnson had little choice but to insert Sanders and his two fouls at the 13-minute mark. Staying clear of the refereeâ€™s whistles, Sanders terrorized PC with a combination of putbacks, jump shots and one-handed dunks, the latter coming just before the half that extended the Stagsâ€™ lead to 30-26. Fairfield concluded the first 20 minutes on a 24-10 run to take a one-point lead into halftime.
RIM RATTLERS: Neither forward Kadeem Batts (suspended) and Kiwi Gardner (academically ineligible) were spotted on the Providence bench. â€¦ The Friars are now off until Saturday when they host Florida A&M as part of the South Padre Island Invitational. PC opens the in-season tourney with a pair of games at The Dunk before shuffling off to South Padre Island for two more games.