PROVIDENCE – Count Jim Boeheim as a fan of the turnaround act Ed Cooley is trying to perform at Providence College.
While receiving praise from the dean of Big East coaches is a sign that Cooley’s work is not going unnoticed around the league, the PC head coach was in no mood to talk about moral victories following his team’s third straight loss, the latest a 87-73 setback to top-ranked Syracuse Wednesday night at The Dunk.
Simply put, Cooley is in the Big East to win, “not for a congratulations loss. I appreciate what (Boeheim) said and it sounds sincere, but we want to win. At the end of the day it’s all about winning the basketball game.
“It’s our third loss in a row and I’m sick to my stomach,” Cooley continued, “but you’ve got to man up. No one in this league is going to feel sorry for you.”
Boeheim quickly shifted gears to talk about Cooley after discussing his own team’s performance, which consisted of 70-percent shooting from the floor in the second half and 59-percent marksmanship from beyond the 3-point line.
“I think Ed has done an unbelievable job with this team, unbelievable job,” noted the Hall of Fame coach. “We were almost lucky to win tonight. We’ve stopped everyone pretty much this year; we couldn’t stop them.”
Boeheim is almost correct in that assessment. Every time the Friars appeared on the verge of inching closer to the highly-decorated Orange, Syracuse’s array of talented players would answer the bell, be it a 3-pointer or a dribble drive by Brandon Triche or a clutch makes by reserve Dion Waiters, whose five points within a 49-second span helped spring the ‘Cuse free, 75-64, with 4:31 to play.
As the game progressed deeper and deeper, it became more apparent that the Friars did not have the horses to manufacture enough manpower to overtake the Orange, who won for the 16th straight time. Some fortunate bounces would have to materialize, but they never did for Cooley’s Friars, who got as close as 70-64 with just over five minutes remaining. Two baskets were wiped out on charging calls while freshman LaDontae Henton saw his 3-point try hit the front of the rim with 2:40 remaining, a miss that all but spelled curtains for Providence.
“You’ve got to try to capitalize on things when you’re playing a team like Syracuse,” Cooley said.
The Friars played at an especially deliberate pace, utilizing almost every second of the 35-second shot clock. Such strategy was by design with Cooley wanting Providence to show patience against Syracuse’s trademark zone while preventing the Orange’s fast break attack from kicking into gear.
Every time the Friars were left with 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock, assistant coach Bob Simon would bellow “10.” PC ended up shooting 49 percent for the game.
“You have to strategically know what you’re trying to do when game planning. I didn’t want to get into a track meet because we don’t have a lot of depth,” Cooley. “As long as there’s a half-a-second on the shot clock, you can still get a shot up. We’re not in a rush, especially when you’re playing against that level of talent.”
Boeheim’s opening remarks of his postgame confab were set aside for the late Dave Gavitt, who Wednesday had a street in Providence dedicated to his memory.
“Dave Gavitt is the only guy who could have put the Big East together. He got the most disparate group of schools you could ever have and there’s nobody who could have gotten that group together,” Boeheim said. “None of us wanted to go into the league in the first place; that’s how stupid we are. Somehow he got it together and made it stronger.”
Without specifically mentioning the cash cow that is college football, Boeheim went on to address how things started to drift apart for a pack of schools steeped in deep basketball tradition. Syracuse is in the process of leaving the Big East for the ACC.
“If we could have just stayed basketball, we would have had the greatest basketball league ever,” the coach said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.”
Cooley hopes to have the same type of energetic crowd that showed up to The Dunk for the nation’s No. 1 team – roughly one-third of the 12,252 paying customers were rooting for Syracuse – when PC plays host to Seton Hall Saturday night.
“We hope to get the same kind of passion and enthusiasm from our crowd because that really helps out our young men,” Cooley said. “That’s why you play at home.”