PROVIDENCE – Kenny Rogers etched his way into pop culture lore when he sang “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”
With the body count for the Providence Friars starting to reach critical mass, maybe it might not be the worst thing if Ed Cooley followed Rogers’ lead and decided to punt on next Sunday’s closed scrimmage against Purdue that will take place in Indianapolis.
Entertaining such a thought might be grounds for blasphemy since Cooley would never back down from a previous commitment. Still, the health of his team is really starting to become a major source of concern.
Did we mention that the season tips off for real in just over two weeks?
“We may have a small group for the first week of the season,” said coach Ed Cooley after the Friars turned away Division II Stonehill, 87-68, in exhibition play on Saturday.
You can add Maliek White to the list of the Friar walking wounded – the list already includes two projected members of the starting five in Luwane Pipkins and Nate Watson along with promising freshman Greg Gantt – after the senior guard was shut down after twisting his ankle early in the second half.
Another major scare came when sophomore A.J. Reeves threw down a one-handed slam and landed awkwardly near the PC bench at 11:14 of the second half. After throwing down a sports drink in an effort to relieve himself of a cramping issue, Reeves came back in with 7:49 left. As encouraging as it was to see Reeves back out there, it was clear that he lacked explosion.
“Hopefully he can heal quick. We’re a M-A-S-H unit out there right now,” said Cooley, who coached against his college alma mater and will be officially enshrined into Stonehill’s Athletic Hall of Fame next month.
Asked if he still sees value in flying halfway across the country to face a Purdue team that’s expected to finish near the top of the Big Ten standings, Cooley said, “Absolutely. We’re going to play someone who’s a perennial Sweet 16/Elite 8 team. We’re going to play against someone that has a lot of length and it’s our level. Even though we’re banged up, we’re going to try and compete.”
It wasn’t all gloom and doom for the Friars. Emmitt Holt started and shined with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and pulled down 13 rebounds in 29 minutes. A graduate student who’s missed substantial time over the past two seasons due to abdominal issues, Holt played down low and responded quite well to the challenge as Stonehill made a concerted effort to get the ball inside. Offensively, Holt cleaned up some misses near the rim and showed nice touch on a couple of outside shots, one from three-point territory.
“I think he’s going to be a key contributor to our group moving forward. To see the smile on Emmitt’s face after the contribution he gave us is what this game is all about,” said Cooley. “Father Time healed him.”
Added Holt, “I wanted to keep the game as simple as possible. My teammates gave me confidence and I just let the game come to me.”
Usually, Andrew Fonts is the Friars’ human victory cigar. On Saturday, the junior from Portsmouth was pressed into duty in the first half and ended up logging 11 minutes. Fonts scored right before the halftime horn sounded on his way to netting four points with three assists and two steals.
“Andrew is better than Ted Bancroft. The reason why is that Andrew knows when to shut up,” said Cooley when asked if Fonts is the second coming of a key walk-on from the early days of his coaching tenure at PC. “Andrew is a young man who I trust. I’ve seen him put on 25 great pounds from his freshman year. It wasn’t a surprise that he was in the game. He knows what he’s doing. He’s our most verbal guy in practice and most energetic guy in the locker room. The players respect him and if they respect him, trust me, that counts a lot more than the coaches.”
Alpha Diallo breezed his way to a 23-point performance on 9-of-13 shooting while David Duke was aggressive and productive (16 points, seven rebound, six assists). Stonehill threw a couple of scares, namely 10 straight points in the first half and six in a row to begin the second half. PC shot 54 percent from the floor for the game but just 22 percent from three.
It looks good on paper when you hold the opposition to 37 percent shooting, yet the Friars, at times, Saturday were guilty of overplaying the passing lane. PC led by 20 points late in the first half but needed to regroup after Stonehill moved to within six (48-42) with 16:35 to play.
“I thought we had a million breakdowns, but the good news is that we played a different opponent. That will make us accountable in our film sessions,” said Cooley. “I thought we got off the gas too many times and became content.”
Former Bryant contributor Monty Urmilevicius is now with Stonehill. He started Saturday’s game and finished with six points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03