PROVIDENCE — For those associated with Providence College basketball, the importance of keeping a stiff upper lip or one’s chin high cannot be underscored. After all, it’s not time to pack away the jerseys just yet.
How are the PC players coping in the wake of two agonizingly painful defeats unfolding within a two-day span earlier in the week? Probably better than an objective observer who opts to draw conclusions based solely on this most recent chain of events would expect to believe. As Gerard Coleman noted Friday afternoon prior to the team gathering for a film session in preparation for Saturday’s contest against South Florida, the Friars are doing their best to keep the tidal wave of woe stranded at sea.
“We’re all getting tired of coming close but not winning,” Coleman said. “We’re just going to try our best to hold a lead and sneak out a win.”
Friar fans need no reminders of what Coleman touched upon. The Super Bowl Sunday overtime loss to West Virginia saw Providence build a 15-point cushion in the first half only to watch the no-quit Mountaineers scrap and claw before squeezing out an 87-84 win. Tuesday’s defeat at Villanova saw the grim reaper lurk behind PC’s bench once more with the Friars watching in horror as the Wildcats erased a 19-point deficit over the final 14 minutes in 74-72 final.
To suggest that Ed Cooley’s Friars are trapped in some sort of hoops nightmare wouldn’t be that much of an exaggeration. Defeats at the hands of West Virginia and Villanova rank up there with all the other close setbacks Providence has endured this season, losses that no doubt make Cooley and his staff’s job that much harder as it relates to keeping the players thinking positively.
“(Cooley) has talked to us a lot, trying to keep our spirits up,” noted Bilal Dixon. “After looking at the tape, every game we’ve played has been real, real close. You can’t look at our record because we’re better than what it indicates. It’s just at the end of the day, we’ve come up short.”
Both Coleman and Dixon stressed that not taking care of “the little things” late in games has been a major fly in the ointment and why the Friars presently sit in last place among the 16-team Big East. Missed free throws and the inability to snatch rebounds on the defensive end were the two glaring deficiencies from the West Virginia game. The bizarre turn-of-events that led to Villanova mounting a fast and furious charge re-opened the wound of the Friars lacking adequate low-post defenders, a weakness that Wildcat forwards Mouphtaou Yarou and JayVaughn Pinkston frequently exposed by combining for 45 points and 22 rebounds.
Asked specifically about “the little things,” Dixon remarked, “We need to get back on (defense) and make sure we talk. Make sure that we’re setting screens and that we’re grabbing every rebound and diving on the floor. Those little things help change the game.”
Echoed Coleman: “We need to stay focused and pay attention to detail. All these games are coming down to the wire and (Cooley) keeps telling us that it’s the little things that count the most. We’ve got to lock in.”
The overall mood of a Friar outfit that has lost six conference games by 10 points or less remains “very high. We need to just keep working hard,” says Dixon.
“We’ve got to continue to trust the coaches and believe in what they’re telling us,” Coleman remarked. “They aren’t telling us that we’re doing anything wrong; we need to stay hungry and focused.”
Cooley, who spent part of his Friday afternoon/evening on the road recruiting, gave the Friars Wednesday off following the Villanova game before returning to the court Thursday in preparation for South Florida. PC and USF met 13 days ago in Tampa, the Bulls coming back from a 53-47 second-half deficit to eke out an 81-78 win – yet another shining example of the Friars letting one slip through their grasp.
From Coleman’s standpoint, Providence has six games remaining before heading to New York for the Big East Tournament. There’s still time to hum a different tune.
“We’re still on a mission,” he said. “Our job is to play hard and pull out a win. We need a win; (South Florida) is a must-win for us.”