PROVIDENCE – You have to be a Friar basketball fan of a certain age to remember the slogan “Guard the Yard.” Popularized during PC’s run to the 2001 NCAA Tournament. The saying became a symbolic stamp of approval when it came to defending the home court.
Last season, the Friars at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center proved far more hospitable than rude hosts. The 2018-19 ledger included an alarming seven losses before the home crowd, a staggering total that left coach Ed Cooley and his players shaking their collective heads. You have to go back to Cooley’s first season at PC to find the last time a Friar squad lost more than four games at home in a single season.
To drop that many games at home … one thing that the shortcomings can’t be blamed upon is support. Last season, PC averaged 9,542 paying customers in 18 openings. They didn’t go to The Dunk to see their favorite team fall behind by 21 points in the first half to Villanova, lose in last-second fashion to UMass (thank goodness that Pipkins guy is no longer a thorn in Friars’ side) or go down to defeat by double figures to Georgetown and Arkansas.
As Cooley contemplated the many hard lessons that were brought up with last season’s 18-16 record, the need to be much better at home was highlighted and stressed to the current group. Opening the new season with five of six games at The Dunk offers the Friars the perfect chance to establish a culture that pays dividends down the line, with Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game against NJIT representing the next opportunity for PC to “guard the yard.”
“We’ve talked about the teams that get to a tournament. They’re the ones who really protect their home turf,” said Cooley. “It’s something we’ve been harping on over the past couple of weeks.”
Emmitt Holt has been around the PC program long enough to know that the fan support is quite real. He also knows that in order for the crowd to become really engaged, the Friars need to do their part in terms of playing effective basketball.
In other words, you need to give them a reason to stand up and cheer.
“It’s tough to play against us when it gets loud in there,” said Holt. “Home court is such a big deal in college basketball and our fans support us to the fullest and the max.”
In Tuesday’s season opener against Sacred Heart, the Friars went from up 13 points at the under-12 minute media timeout in the first half to enjoying a 29-point cushion when the under-four minute timeout rolled around. The attendance was announced at 8,103, yet Holt could tell the octave levels were raised several decibels as PC went about applying major distance on the scoreboard.
“It’s fuel when we get the crowd behind us and supporting us. It’s an extra push,” said Holt, “but we’ve also got to give them a reason to come and be heard. I think we have a little more swagger under our belts with the freshmen becoming sophomores. The older guys, they know how to play the game. There are so many factors that go into it, but they’re all going to have to come together.”
In an effort to feel more reverberations at The Dunk, the PC marketing folks created a promotion that certainly had Cooley asking questions after Tuesday’s 106-60 blowout of Sacred Heart. If an opposing player misses two consecutive free throws during the second half of a home game, fans will be able to redeem their ticket stub for a free chicken sandwich at a participating Chick-fil-A. In this day and age, who doesn’t like to receive something for free?
“We all feel that energy and can’t help but be drawn to it,” said Alpha Diallo. “The Chick-fil-A [promotion, better known as “Fowl Shots”] definitely helps.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03