PROVIDENCE – So this is what winning in the Big East feels like.
Saturday bore witness to Providence College canceling its long overdue appointment with the conference’s win column. The return to sender memo was made possible by a 72-67 upset victory of 19th-ranked Louisville before an exuberant audience of 12,051 at The Dunk. It was the first conference victory for the Friars in 51 weeks, and their first win over former coach Rick Pitino.
“After my 10-second post game speech, there was a lot of chanting and singing,” said Keno Davis following the merciful end of the Friars’ 17-game Big East skid. “It was a relief for them.”
The sigh of relief was made possible thanks to a Friar defense that threw a blanket over Louisville’s normally potent 3-point arsenal. The Cardinals missed all 12 of their attempts in the second half – including chucking up several airballs in the closing stages as they struggled to make a comeback. For the game Louisville shot just 4-of-23 from downtown.
Louisville, which in the final 7:50 shot just 12 times (making four), didn’t help out its cause by committing three offensive fouls, all of which came on screens the officials deemed illegal.
“We had some good shots, but the referees made the calls and took it out of our hands,” said Pitino, who fell to the Friars for the first time in seven tries. “Father Shanley (PC’s school president) hired those three guys … I never saw those officials before.”
The Friars had not won a Big East game since beating then-No. 19 Connecticut last Jan. 27. What followed was a series of defeats, some more painful than others. Just this season alone the Friars were right there in all but one of their previous six Big East clashes, yet found themselves unable to make winning plays with the outcome hanging in the balance.
For a change the Friars sung a different tune. Vincent Council delivered the game’s biggest shots, tossing in two clutch jump shots that turned a 64-63 PC lead into a still-not-completely-out-of-the-woods 68-63 advantage with 39.3 seconds remaining. Council’s heroics came after he spent much of the second half shaking off a nasty fall at the start of the second half.
“I was really dizzy and I couldn’t see. I kept on seeing lights but I tried to shake it off,” said Council, who ended up with 12 points. “In the game against Pittsburgh (one those aforementioned close losses for the Friars), I gave it up at the wrong time to Gerard (Coleman) and we lost the game. I figured if I made the shot (on Saturday), then we would have a chance to win the game.”
With Council supplying the offense, the Friars turned to their defense to finish the job. Playing exclusively man-to-man, PC forced Louisville into a series of forced shots, Chris Smith (team-best 19 points) and reserve Kyle Kuric coming up on 3-point tries after Council came through on the other end. The Cardinals’ last gasp came when Smithfield native Mike Marra found nothing but air with 9.4 ticks to go, the Friars at that point protecting a 70-65 lead.
“We made the plays in the end and Louisville didn’t,” summed up PC senior Marshon Brooks, who rebounded from a sub par first half (1-of-6 from the field for 7 points) to lead all scorers with 27 points.
Davis went exclusively with a seven-man rotation in the second half, one that didn’t see Bilal Dixon to start the half. The move was based primarily on the Cards (15-4, 4-2 Big East) going with a smaller lineup, as Brooks spent much of the final 20 minutes defending down in the post.
“I think it helped,” said Coleman when asked if shortening the bench helped the Friars. Coleman netted 14 of his career-best 19 points in the opening half, one that saw PC trail 43-39 at intermission.
Davis went on to say that the six days Providence was off leading into the Louisville game served a chance for the coaching staff to bring its young squad along. He then added that, “the time off isn’t great for a player to sit there and listen to everyone talk about that you’re not any good when you know you’re not great, but you’re getting better.”
For a change, Davis’ words aren’t following a Big East loss. The Friars’ next order of business is to build on this, starting with Wednesday’s visit from nationally-ranked Villanova.
“I know we can compete with any team in the Big East,” said Coleman. “(Last night) we showed it.”
RIM RATTLERS: Mara, who sat out Louisville’s previous two games with a sprained ankle, shot just 1-for-7, missing all five of his 3-point attempts. He did log five assists in 21 minutes. … Spotted courtside were Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, a Louisville grad, and ex-Pats star Troy Brown. … Also in the crowd was PC grad Rich Gotham, currently the president of the Boston Celtics. … PawSox president Mike Tamburro and general manager Lou Schwechheimer were honored during a timeout in the first half as part of ceremony dedicated to recognizing late owner Ben Mondor.