PROVIDENCE – Isaiah Jackson stole the ball, a play that provided some hope during an otherwise forgettable second half.
Jackson drove and kicked the ball out to Maliek White, who had a good look at a three-point shot the Providence Friars desperately needed to drop. White came up empty from the right wing, a far too frequent occurrence in a game that didn’t feature much pushback from the home team.
What followed the White miss was a breakaway dunk by Xavier’s Tyrique Jones. After a Friar turnover, Naji Marshall dialed up a three-pointer that extended the Musketeers’ lead to 17 points with 3:53 left.
A season that continues to rapidly slip away sank to an even lower depth on Saturday afternoon as Xavier rolled to a 75-61 victory that left head coach Ed Cooley in a state of utter shock. The Friars have now dropped five home games, the most since losing six during Cooley’s first season at PC. The Friars now sit in last place in the 10-team Big East after dropping their fourth game in four tries.
Mind you this wasn’t some conference contender that tore into Providence. Xavier came to town in a three-way tie for last place. What the Friars got was a Musketeer outfit that resembled the one that achieved a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, not the one that as recently as this past Wednesday was trying to figure out a way to snap a six-game losing streak.
The sellout crowd of 12,410 could never get behind Providence as Xavier simply did not miss over the final 20 minutes.
Led by 19 points from Jones and 14 from Marshall, the Musketeers carved up the Friars’ normally reliable defense for 73.1-percent shooting in the second half and 59.2 percent for the contest.
It was a performance that resembled a runaway freight train. Every time the visitors were on the move, it seemed as if Jones was running the lane and finishing at the rim with flair and with no one in a Friar uniform in the same zip code.
To still have so many problems with the regular season rapidly drawing to a close speaks to Cooley and the continuing trouble he’s encountered when it comes to connecting with his players. The coach is leaning towards giving the Friars back-to-back days off from practice before diving into St. John’s, which is set to come here on Wednesday night (8:30 tip).
“It was one of the worst games I’ve ever coached in. In saying that, the other team made a lot of shots in the second half. Give them credit,” Cooley said. “They outmanned us and overpowered us. I’ve got to do a much better job. We’re coming down to the end for us to still be playing like this is 100 percent on me.
“It’s not about our practices. It’s about our preparation and our mindset,” Cooley added. “The answers are in the players and our coaching. If we’re going to dig ourselves out of this hole, we have to do it collectively.”
For those thinking of jumping off the Friar bandwagon, Cooley has a message for you.
“If I’m going to take a positive from this, it’s the fact that there’s a lot of non-believers in the Friars right now. In my life, we always prove people wrong,” the coach said. “As I told our guys, they’ll be better days to come. Today wasn’t our day. At the end of the day, we have a good group of young men who are looking forward to the next opportunity. ”
Even though the Friars (14-12, 4-9 Big East) walked off the court with a 32-26 lead, there were signs that momentum was shifting in Xavier’s direction. Cooley called a timeout with 33 seconds left but ended up getting a turnover from Alpha Diallo that led to a point for Xavier. PC held the ball for the final shot but had to settle for an off-balanced three from Makai Ashton-Langford as time expired.
The 10-zip run that changed the game’s complexion featured a steady diet of interior lifting. Jones had two dunks, the second one leading to Cooley pulling all five players on the floor. The replacements didn’t fare much better as Xavier (13-13, 5-8 Big East) extended its lead to double digits with 13:15 remaining after back-to-back threes from Quentin Goodin (13 points) and Marshall. All told, Xavier hit PC over the head with a 23-8 surge.
“You try and give your subs confidence and tell the guys who came out of the game that they’re not getting it done as a unit,” Cooley said. “Our ball-screen coverage wasn’t very good. Our on-ball defense wasn’t very good. They got transition baskets … Jones looked like a lottery pick.”
There were times the Friars went with a small lineup to see if they could push the tempo, but to no avail. PC finished the game with two fast-break points.
“When you’re home, you definitely want to pick up the pace,” Cooley said. “For whatever reason, we just didn’t do it.”
Nate Watson led the Friars with 16 points. Diallo, the team’s leading scorer, finished with seven points on 2-of-10 shooting. His output summed up a day that saw PC shoot just 35.7 percent. Xavier ended up outscoring PC by 20 points over the final 20 minutes. The Musketeers’ lead peaked at 17 points with 5:43 remaining. That prompted many fans to head for the nearest exit.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03