PROVIDENCE – During long, taxing Big East winters, some Providence College followers often wonder why the Friars chose to bump heads with college basketball’s elite.
Why? A visit by the No. 5-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers seems like a good place to begin. Welcoming such a highly decorated club brings with it the chance to secure a big time win while presenting youngsters like Gerard Coleman and Kadeem Batts a shot to become recognized outside of the Ocean State.
Such a chance was at hand Tuesday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The youthful Friars clung to a four-point lead with 1:31 remaining, but the Panthers responded by making all the correct plays the rest of the way to dash Providence’s upset bid with an 83-79 victory.
The loss had a familiar feel for Keno Davis’ Friars. The team continues to hang tough in a league that is universally regarded for devouring its young. Closing games out is proving to be a different matter for PC. For the third time in as many Big East games, Providence could say it had a legitimate shot at walking off the court with a satisfying triumph. Yet for the third straight game, PC came up short when it mattered most.
“We’ve had a chance in every single game,” said Batts after posting nine points and five rebounds. “In this league it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve just got to move to the next game.”
That Pittsburgh was the second top-10 team Providence had drawn in three league dates reveals a great deal of how difficult navigating the Big East waters can be. Yet when your team is 91 seconds away from securing a signature win – the scenario which the Friars found themselves in after Marshon Brooks nailed a cold-blooded 3-pointer with Pittsburgh’s Gilbert Brown in his face – it’s best to make sure that things don’t spiral out of control.
PC’s 14th consecutive Big East defeat came down to one team (Pittsburgh) making all the right plays with the game on the line while the other (Providence) faltered badly. The downward spiral started when point guard Vincent Council threw a lackadaisical pass that Coleman made a valiant bid to save with 51 ticks left, but the ball instead landed at Davis’ feet. The turnover proved even more costly when the Panthers’ Travon Woodall swished a 3-ball with 39.9 seconds on the clock. The eventual dagger through PC’s heart restored the lead for Pittsburgh, 77-76.
The next offensive trip would once again produce a baffling result for Providence. Instead of placing the ball in the hands of Brooks, the team’s leading scorer, the audience of 9,181 watched as Coleman uncorked a wild shot that clanked off the back of the rim with 22 seconds remaining. The PC freshman had nailed his previous trey a few minutes earlier to pull PC to within 67-64, which he admitted afterwards gave him the confidence to try his luck again.
“Personally as a basketball player I’m not afraid to fail at all,” said Coleman, who finished with 11 points in 36 minutes. “If I get that shot again I’ll take it.”
The final bit of undoing came when PC’s Council missed two free throws with 11 seconds remaining and the team down three. With that, Pittsburgh started to exhale, knowing that it had truly survived despite committing 23 turnovers that lead to 25 points.
Davis once again harped on the point that his PC team, now 11-5 overall, is painstakingly young and is going through a baptism-by-fire process that he believes will make the Friars stronger in the future. Brooks tossed in a game-best 28 points while Council added 13 points and 10 assists. Sophomore Duke Mondy enjoyed one of his better games to date, nailing four 3-pointers on his way to 12 points. Pittsburgh’s Brown finished with 19 points to lead the victors, swishing five of his club’s 10 treys.
“We’ve got to earn what we get as we move up this conference,” said Davis. “There are some things we are going to have to live with and get better on.”
Davis sounded a little frustrated when asked about trying to hold on when you have four starters – Batts, Coleman, Council and Bilal Dixon – saddled with four fouls apiece late in the contest. The team sides combined to shoot 44 free throws and get whistled for 43 fouls.
“It was an unbelievable game to think we would have so much foul trouble with us playing zone the entire game, and we didn’t respond well,” said Davis, venting a bit. “We’ve got to become a better team in order to get those breaks. I was frustrated and I’ll leave it at that.”
The Friar players know that looking at the past will not help them come Saturday night in Rutgers.
“We can dwell on this game, but it’s not going to help the outcome,” Coleman said. “We’re going to get it going.”
Added Batts, “We can’t get this one back. We’ve got to move on to the next one.”