PROVIDENCE — You know that the Providence Friars are involved in a tight, white-knuckle affair when Ed Cooley emphatically removes his sport jacket and flings it in the general direction of the bench.
When it was all over and PC had secured a hard-fought 76-74 win over upset-minded Yale on Tuesday night before 3,281 patrons, Cooley immediately honed in on his team’s porous defense, one that came oh-so-close to allowing the Bulldogs to waltz out of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center with an eyebrow-raising victory.
The Bulldogs ended up shooting 68.2 percent in the second half and 53.6 percent for the game. It’s not a figure that will show up on the stat sheet, but given Cooley’s frostiness regarding the Friars and the lack of defense it displayed, it’s likely he knew that Yale ended up hitting 23 of its final 30 shots, a stretch that dates back to the final five minutes of the first half.
“We didn’t have it defensively,” sighed Cooley. “Normally I like our defensive effort, but we’ve got to get better. Our interior defense and our ball screens, we just weren’t very good.”
Given the limited numbers Cooley is working with at the moment, the head coach understands that things need to be done in order to mask the flaws of the Friars who are available. PC ended up winning the rebounding battle by a 29-27 count after allowing Yale to own the glass in the first half (the Bulldogs enjoyed a 20-11 advantage).
“Our big picture – we can’t guard like that if we’re going to win in the Big East,” Cooley boldly stated. “If you play like that in this league, you’re going to get embarrassed.”
While the defensive situation clearly bothered Cooley, he can take comfort in knowing that his shorthanded unit received contributions from the usual suspects. As usual, Bryce Cotton led the Friars in points (21 on 8-fo-14 shooting) and assists (eight). Save for the two late-game turnovers that allowed Yale to stay right by PC’s side, Cotton played 39 flawless minutes.
“Offensively we’ve been good in practice,” noted Cooley.
Tyler Harris finished with 19 points while LaDontae Henton added 13 points and six rebounds. Coming out of a timeout with PC holding a 73-72 lead with 49.1 seconds remaining, Henton caught the ball and immediately turned to the hoop for what proved to be an important basket.
Now down three with 17.6 seconds left, Yale was looking to get shooter Greg Kelley in position for a game-tying 3-pointer, but the ball ended up in the hands of Javier Duren. A junior, Duren lost control as he started to go into a spin move. Kadeem Batts (10 points) came up with the loose ball and would go on to hit a free throw that made it a two-possession game with 5.6 seconds remaining.
Yale was led by sophomore forward Justin Sears, who collected a game-high 31 points on 13-of-16 shooting. Kelley was the only other Bulldog to notch double figures, his 11 points coming on three 3-pointers.
Taking the court for their first competitive game in nearly two weeks, the Friars lit up the Bulldogs to the tune of six 3-pointers (in seven tries) in the opening eight minutes. The barrage from distance featured three triples from Harris and two from Cotton as PC shredded Yale’s man defense on its way to vaulting out to a 22-10 advantage.
Junking the man in favor of a 2-3 zone, the Bulldogs continued to get burned by the Friars, this time the scoring punch coming from down low. A nifty floater in the lane by Cotton made it 30-17 with five minutes left, but that’s when Yale took over.
With Sears terrorizing the Friars in the post, the Bulldogs ripped off 14 straight points to pull within one at 35-34. Batts momentarily stopped the bleeding with a three in the corner, but Yale scored the half’s final four points to make it a 35-all affair at recess. All told, the visitors strung together an 18-3 surge.
“I just thought we calmed down a little bit and started to believe in ourselves,” said Yale head coach James Jones. “We missed a lot of easy shots earlier in the game, but I thought our guys played with more confidence as the half went on.”
That confidence Jones touched upon extended deep into the second half. Yale hit five of its first seven shots to grab a 44-41 lead. PC battled back to take the lead and actually extended it a little bit after Cotton kissed a shot high off the glass and made the free throw to make it 57-51 with 9:55 remaining.
The Bulldogs refused to pack it as they continued to stay close. Helped by two miscues by Cotton – one coming when he stepped on the baseline inside the final minute – Yale pieced together a 7-2 run to make it a one-point game before PC made a few plays in the end.
Afterwards, all Cooley could do was count his lucky stars.
“Hopefully we can watch some film and learn from what we did today. It’s one of those games where you have to turn the page and get better from,” said Cooley. “We did win the basketball game. I’ve never coached a bad win, but we executed just enough.”
On the status of suspended freshmen Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin, Cooley said that nothing has changed. Both continue to practice with the team as they await word regarding their status.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to follow a process. Hopefully a resolution will be coming soon,” said Cooley. “I’m more concerned about the guys who are playing and at the same time as we go through this process with our players, it will be what it is. Until then, there’s not really a lot to talk about.”
The lift that seldom-used Brice Kofane provided in the second half should be pointed out. Kofane, who has scored three points in three games this season, entered with PC up 50-48. He exited at 6:55 after contributing a slam dunk, two free throws and two rebounds. More importantly, the Friars were ahead by a 61-55 count.
“He was a good energy guy,” Cooley pointed out.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03