PROVIDENCE – Marshon Brooks had his fill of Morgan State by the time he reported to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Thursday afternoon. That’s why the Providence College senior wanted to make sure that the rest of the Friars knew that the Bears were no slouch.
“We hear it from the fans, from Facebook, that Morgan State is no joke and that they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament the last two years,” said Brooks. “It was a different atmosphere.”
That was certainly the case in the final 10 minutes, as the Friars closed out on a 35-13 run to grab a 77-55 win in the first game of the Cancun Challenge. PC and Morgan State were locked in a 42-42 game before the Friars found an extra gear, which allowed Keno Davis’ club to improve to 3-0 in what is still the pilot-light stage of the 2010-11 season.
Brooks (22 points, 12 rebounds) and fellow returnees Vincent Council (14 points, 5 assists) and Bilal Dixon (12 rebounds, 5 blocks) all played key roles, but it was the play of Kadeem Batts that had the Friars buzzing afterwards, Batts, a redshirt freshman, provided some much needed toughness underneath on his way to racking up 14 points and 8 rebounds.
After sitting out all of last year and amassing 5 points and 5 rebounds through the first two games of this season, the 6-foot-9 Batts was eager to make his mark. The power forward fought his way to six points as part of an 11-4 run that saw PC assume command with 7:56 remaining, 53-46.
“I’ve been anxious to get myself going,” said Batts. “I have to give all the credit to the guards. They had confidence in me and got me the ball. I know what I can do and they let me do it.”
Brooks knows how important it is to have another big body like Batts teaming up with Dixon. The Friars won the rebounded battle against the taller Bears, 51-40, after the sides were deadlocked, 24-24, at halftime.
“I talked to him before the game and told him to let everything come to him and everything will be fine,” said Brooks. “I hang out with Kadeem a lot, and he’s been stressing. Once he scored his first couple of buckets, I knew he would be fine.”
Once again PC’s defense was up to task, holding a Morgan State that was coming off an 81-79 win at Loyola Marymount of California to 31 percent shooting, The Bears shot just 1-of-9 from three-point territory and committed 18 turnovers, 11 coming in the first half.
The attention that Davis and his staff have put in towards becoming a stronger defensive unit has certainly paid off in the early going, as the Friars have now held their opponents to 60 points or less in three straight games for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Davis even joked that PC sits atop the Big East in field goal percentage defense as of this morning. “If the season would end today,” said a smiling Davis, “we would win that title.”
Davis then took a more serious approach. “I don’t want our fans to think I’m saying that, but we are much improved (defensively). We need some more weapons in recruiting and need some more talent at certain positions. We need some guys to get older and continue to develop. I think the intensity and effort was something that was lacking last year. With a fresh year and some new players, we have a new attitude. I think we can be a good defensive team this year. I don’t know if we can be a great one, but we can give great effort.”
Davis admits that the offense, which wasn’t the problem last season, is slowly but surely coming around. PC shot 31 percent in the first half before a hot finish allowed the Friars to wrap up at 47 percent.
“There are things we need to clean up in terms of execution. We don’t want to get stagnant out there,” said the third-year coach. “We threw a lot at the players in two days, knowing that we would going to need everything we had put in to beat Morgan State. We couldn’t hold anything back.”