PROVIDENCE — By no means was Providence’s 68-63 win over South Florida Wednesday night a work of art. Not that anyone in the Friar locker room is about to complain about style points.
PC did not play anywhere near its best but won for the third time in four games to improve to 3-7 in the Big East and 14-9 overall.
“We’re a high-paced team, but (last night) we didn’t score a lot of points,” noted senior big man Ray Hall. “We had to rely on our defense, and our defense really came through.”
Marshon Brooks shook off sluggish 2-for-6 performance in the first half to pour in a game-best 24 points to go along with seven rebounds. Relegated to sparse bench duty all season, Hall gave the Friars a little bit of everything during his 13 minutes of action, from his handoff assist to Duke Mondy that led to a critical 3-point basket in the second half to a drop step move over three USF defenders to put PC up 56-47 with 5:48 to play, capping off what was a 14-2 surge by the home team.
“I saw that I had the lane,” said Hall, who three points and two rebounds, “but I didn’t want to be selfish. I wanted to kick it out and Duke was open.”
The Bulls, who came to town winners of their last three against the Friars, rushed back at PC, scoring 11 of the next 13 points to tie the game at 58-58. The fact South Florida nailed back-to-back triples to pull even forced Keno Davis to make a decision: do the Friars remain playing zone and hope not to get burned, or does PC switch to man-to-man, a defense that paid dividends in home wins against Louisville and Villanova?
Davis chose man, as the Bulls managed just one field goal in the final 2:29. Kadeem Bats came up with a timely rejection with PC protecting a 64-61 lead and also forced USF’s Augustus Gilchrist into tossing up a shot that bounced hard off the glass. For good measure Batts added two free throws with 11.9 seconds left to stretch PC’s lead to 66-61.
“We had to change because (South Florida) was feeling confident at that point,” Davis said. “Fortunately we made a couple of big plays down the stretch.”
The Bulls (8-15, 2-8) wasted no time establishing the game’s tempo, as South Florida had more blocks (five) that PC had field goals (four) through the opening eight minutes. The Friars regrouped to go up 21-15, but the two teams spent the vast majority of the opening half staying within sight of the other. USF held PC to just 36-pecent shooting en route to grabbing a slim 30-29 lead at recess.
“I think we came out sluggish. I know South Florida did a great job slowing down the tempo, knowing that we’re a fast pace team,” assessed sophomore Vincent Council, who in 38 minutes racked up 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
South Florida stormed out to a quick 38-32 lead early in the second half before PC finally got something going offensively. A hard drive by Brooks and a layup by Council – set up by a steal by Mondy – put the Friars in front, 48-44. Brooks would make his presence felt after USF tied things at 58-all, pulling the trigger on a quick 3-pointer that put PC up good with 2:31 remaining.
“We have a real good team,” said Hall. “We just need to put things together and get a couple of good breaks here and there. I think we’ll be an interesting team come Big East Tournament time.”
RIM RATTLERS: Wednesday was designated “Pink Out Night” at The Dunk as PC officials wore pink ribbons in support of the fight against breast cancer. Brooks, Council Batts, Bilal Dixon and Gerard Coleman also participated, each player sporting some degree of pink on their socks/sneakers. … Speaking of Dixon, the sophomore was unable to follow up his 17-point, 10-rebound performance against Seton Hall. In eight foul-plagued minutes Dixon finished with three points and one rebound. … PC next plays Saturday at Georgetown at high noon. The Hoyas are the only Big East team the Friars have not beaten since the league expanded to its current 16-team allotment in 2005. ... The crowd was announced at 3,785.