Jared Bynum and the Friars couldn’t find the mark vs. Miami (Photos: Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
UNCASVILLE, CONN. – The Providence Friars first taste of the big-time this season didn’t go down very well Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Friars took a giant leap up in weight class against Miami in the Hall of Fame Tipoff and could not measure up in a 74-64 loss. PC fell behind by 15 points late in the first half, cut that deficit to six a few times in the second but could not chase the Hurricanes any further. Isaiah Wong, an All-ACC performer, looked every big the part of a star by scoring 18 points, dishing for three assists and grabbing three steals. Norchad Omier, a bruising transfer from Arkansas State, killed the Friars inside with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
The win was the 700th of Jim Larranaga’s career. The former Providence star guard credited the lessons he learned under both Joe Mullaney and Dave Gavitt for molding the foundation of his basketball career.
The Friars (3-1) have some serious work to do to work up to Miami’s (4-0) level. Providence did not guard the ball well at all on the perimeter, lost the rebound battle decisively (38-29, 14 offensive) and shot just 23 percent (5-21) from behind the 3-point line.
The biggest problem was definitely defense off the bounce, or as Ed Cooley said “guarding the ball, F-minus by Providence College.”
Miami’s Wong took advantage of the Friars’ defensive issues, at least in the first half when he totaled 14 of his 18 points.
“In the first half I saw a lot of open lanes off ball screens,” Wong said. “They gave me a lot of space to operate and open looks.”
Miami will face Maryland in the Tipoff final at 1 p.m.. The Terps ran past Saint Louis in the opener, 95-67. Providence will face Saint Louis at 3:30 on Sunday.
The Friars came out with some fire but the Hurricanes never cracked and once PC’s offense stalled, Wong led a spurt that Providence had no answer for. PC led 15-11 out of the gate as Noah Locke knocked home a quick 3-pointer, Bryce Hopkins threaded the needle with a nice pass for a Devin Carter layup and PC’s defense looked tough.
That didn’t last very long.
Miami continually put the Friars in physical ball screen situations and Wong was the clear beneficiary. He shook his man at the point of attack and then twisted and turned his way into the lane for buckets. He finished the half 5-of-9 from the floor and also found his way to the free throw line twice and dropped in four freebies for his 14 points.
An Alyn Breed floater and one Jared Bynum free throw had PC trailing by just 20-18 with 7:56 left but the next few minutes were crippling. The Canes put together a 10-0 run to take control, 32-19. The run was stopped by a Jayden Pierre feed to Hopkins for a score but the Miami lead peaked at 15 (38-23) on a Nijel Pack (11 points) hoop with 37 seconds left. Only a Breed 3-pointer in the final seconds limited the damage to 38-26 at the break.
Providence needed to clean the glass yet was out-worked off the boards by a 22-15 count in the opening half. The Friars’ four missed free throws (6-10) and awful 3-point shooting (2-11) certainly didn’t help the cause.
The Friars finally dug in on defense but not until the deficit sat at 43-30 early in the second half. Carter did an excellent job slowing down Wong and – finally – Bynum awoke from an offensive slumber. After an 0-4 first half, the little man slipped inside for two of his patented drives to the rack, the second of which lowered the deficit below 10 points for the first time in a long while.
The heavily pro-Providence crowd rose to its feet a few minutes later when Carter nailed a 3-pointer with 11:54 left to cut the deficit to just 51-45.
The Friars hung close at 55-49 with 9:31 on the clock but that was it. Miami scored the next eight points to grab control and never look back. The play of the game? Clearly a steal and end-to-end drive by Wong that came with all sorts of French pastry.
The Friars showed the remnants of a good team at times but overall they clearly have a lot of work to do. Defense is numero uno. As Cooley noted, the Canes totaled just seven assists but still scored 27 field goals. That means way, way too much production off the dribble by players like Wong, Pack and Bensley Joseph.
On offense, Hopkins showed he could score off the dribble and Bynum got to the rim four times for buckets but the senior guard was just 1-of-7 from downtown. Locke, Carter and Breed combined to shoot 3-of-11 from behind the 3-point line.
“The good thing about playing in this great tournament is we have an opportunity to play tomorrow and shake some of this off,” Cooley said. “We’ll get better and that’s why you play in these games. We needed to play in a game like this. It’s not the way we wanted it to come out, yet it’s a long season that will go fast and we’ll benefit from this. We’ve got a lot to work on. The more mature, physical team won today.”