The Friars celebrated the retirement of Bob Driscoll with a win Sunday to extend hot start to 16-2 (Photo: Louriann Mardo-Zayat)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
PROVIDENCE – The last time the Providence Friars blitzed out of the gate and won 16 of their first 18 games, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Soup Cambell and Dwight Williams were all the rage on Sabin Street.
That Friar team, coached by Dave Gavitt, owned a little bit of everything. The dynamic Williams was enjoying his finest moments in two all-too-brief seasons in town and the frontcourt of seniors Campbell, Bill Eason and Bob ‘Beef’ Misevicius wore down a lot of foes.
Fast forward 44 years and the Friars are off to a 16-2 start yet again. This Ed Cooley-coached group keeps scratching and clawing, fighting for hard-earned wins at every turn. The latest is a 69-62 victory over Butler that played out fairly typically for this group. Excellent balance, coupled with late-game execution, delivered yet another victory, PC’s sixth in seven Big East tilts.
“Six conference wins so far,” Cooley said, shaking off the 16-2 overall mark. “It tells you you’re mature, it tells you you’ve made some adjustments personally and emotionally programmatic-wise to give yourself a chance to be special. We still have a long way to go but where we are today I think it’s a credit to the players. The preparation emotionally and mentally. It’s a credit to have guys having buy-in.”
The Friars never led by more than nine points against a Butler team (9-10, 2-6) that has struggled to compete in several Big East games recently. In their previous three games, the Bulldogs were dismissed by 19, 17 and 40 points. Not in this one. Chuck Harris (21 points) and Bo Hodges (17 points) led the Dawgs and kept this one tight into crunch time.
Down the stretch the key for Providence was a few defensive stops and Nate Watson. A 58-56 game with 6:08 to play quickly turned in PC’s favor with Watson making two free throws and then skying for a alley-oop slam off a Jared Bynum pass.
When the big man followed up his own miss at the rim and then delivered out of a timeout off a slick feed from Al Durham, the Friars were finally in control at 67-60 and just 67 seconds remaining on the clock.
“You have to have a plan and our players are really polished,” Cooley said. “We’re very good out of timeouts. You have to be able to execute under duress.”
The Friars’ requisite balance again shone through. Four players hit double figures and two others scored eight and nine points. Watson led the way with 18 points and 7 boards. Durham added 12 and Bynum (10 points, 6 assists) and Ed Croswell (10 points) also hit double figures.
Croswell hadn’t contributed much until a vital stretch of the second half. Butler trailed 39-33 at the half but came out tough in the second half and grabbed a few one-point leads, the last coming at the 12:26 mark. Enter Croswell Cleaners. The big man subbed for Watson and went to work scoring four consecutive field goals to help the Friars to a 56-50 lead with 8:20 left.
The Friars saw some nifty guard play from Jared Bynum in the first half. He’s clearly gotten more confident but, more importantly, gained added poise in recent weeks. As the team’s first guard off the bench Bynum sparks the offensive attack with a quicker change-of-pace and creates a few baskets a game easier than anyone else on the roster.
After the game, Cooley began his post-game remarks with a hearty Thank You to retiring athletic director Bob Driscoll. Cooley has entertained offers to leave Providence throughout his 11 years at the school but the presence of Driscoll – and former President Rev. Brian Shanley – has kept him home.
Driscoll’s departure certainly will spark fears that Cooley would one day leave Providence but the fact that Driscoll locked his coach up to a ‘lifetime contract’ that still has more than five years remaining is a difference maker. Cooley is currently earning more than $3 million a season at Providence, making him one of the better compensated coaches in the Big East and the country.
Current Providence President Rev. Kenneth Sicard said there will be some guidance on Driscoll’s replacement at a later date but clearly that development is critical not only for Cooley’s future, but that of the entire athletic department. Sicard said he’d love to continue with a leader “that has the passion that Bob has and the love for PC that Bob has.”
Current Senior Associate Athletic Director Steve Napolillo is seen as the early favorite to succeed Driscoll. He would bring the type of consistency that current coaches would favor and is a proven prodigious athletic fundraiser.
It’s tough sledding ahead for the Friars with a visit to Xavier on Wednesday and a home game against a Marquette team that embarrassed PC a few weeks back coming next Saturday.