PROVIDENCE – Ed Cooley knew exactly when his team lost control. But Providence College’s first-year head coach didn’t seem all hot and bothered after his team held on for dear life in an 82-77 victory Tuesday night against Holy Cross.
The Friars appeared in control at The Dunk, building a 64-46 lead with 14:14 left behind usual suspects Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton, Gerard Coleman and LaDontae Henton. That’s when PC hit the skids, which in turn allowed Holy Cross to meticulously trim the onetime wide deficit and climb back into the game. What started out as a 9-0 run soon turned into a 27-9 surge that allowed the visiting Crusaders to go up by a duce (75-73) with 2:22 to play.
“We lost a big lead and I was nervous about how we would respond,” stated Cooley.
Soon fear was replaced with winning basketball with Henton leading the charge. The true freshman from Michigan followed a Coleman miss to tie the game at 77-all with 58 seconds remaining. A huge steal by Coleman then helped set up the go-ahead hoop as the sophomore attacked the rim before dishing off to Henton, who was standing on the baseline.
Henton quickly blew past the Holy Cross defense before flipping in a shot in with 25.6 ticks left. Fouled on the play, Henton hit the free throw to reclaim the lead for the Friars, 80-77.
“Coach was telling me to attack the rim the whole game,” said Henton. “I found an opening at the end and was able to attack the rim.”
The pressure then shifted on the Friars to come up with a stop. PC almost got beat on a pick-and-pop sequence after J.R. Evans started to drive before kicking the ball back to an open Phil Beans. The Holy Cross center, whose lone 3-pointer of the game tied the game at 69, didn’t come close to drawing iron in what was his fourth try from downtown with four seconds remaining.
“It wasn’t a bad look. They didn’t switch on time but I think (Beans) rushed a little bit, not knowing how much time he had left,” said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown. “We executed; it just didn’t fall.”
Two free throws by Cotton, who finished with a game-best 24 points, helped Friars seal up their fifth win in as many tries at The Dunk and for a moment made everyone forget about what happened against Iowa State and Northern Iowa over Thanksgiving weekend.
“When you play at home, great things happen,” said Cooley in a salute to the 5,201 fans. “I don’t know if we’ve ever had a bigger lead in the seven games we’ve played, lose a lead like that, then come back and trade basket-for-basket.”
Henton, who according to his coach is a “jack-of-all-trades kind of guy” and goes by the nickname “Buckets,” finished with 17 points, making it the fifth time in seven games he’s popped for double figures. Council added 19 points and 11 assists while Coleman, who started the game after coming off the bench the previous six games, poured in 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and six assists.
Henton, Coleman and Council played all 40 minutes while Coleman came up a minute shy with 39 minutes. Evans and Dave Dudzinski each hit for 21 points to lead the Crusaders (2-5).
Apparently Holy Cross didn’t watch too much tape of PC’s abysmal offensive showing last weekend in San Padre, Texas. If the Crusaders did, they would have seen a Friar team that limped its way to scoring a combined 47 first-half points in two games. Forty-seven bears repeating because that’s the number of points Providence hit for in the opening half Tuesday night to pin Holy Cross in a 47-38 hole at halftime.
The Friars got into a much better flow behind the shooting of Cotton, who was coming off a three-game stretch in which he totaled just 12 points. The sophomore had 15 points by halftime and had 20 after canning a three in the corner to put Cooley and Providence up 16 points before trouble set in.
“We’ve been working with Cotton (three 3s) to shoot the ball. I’m happy that he got back on the great side today and got us going,” Cooley said. “What we did the past two days was change our transition offense to try and space the floor. We felt we weren’t getting much production from our frontcourt as far as offense goes so we wanted to open the floor up more and play off the drive. When (Holy Cross) played zone, we went to designated looks to get Bryce the ball.”
RIM RATTLERS: Sophomore Ron Giplaye received his first collegiate start Tuesday night. The bloom was off the rose in no time flat with Cooley yanking Giplaye after a missed defensive assignment 1:27 into the game. … Brice Kofane came off the bench to snatch 12 rebounds in 26 minutes. “We need to bottle that one up and save it,” said Cooley. “He gave us great energy.” … The Friars will head to South Carolina on Thursday as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge. It’s in Columbia, S.C. where Ryan Gomes made his Friar debut on Dec. 3, 2001 after sitting out the opening seven games of the season.