By KEVIN McNAMARA
NEWARK, N.J. – Slowly but surely, Ed Cooley is learning a lot about his 12th Providence College basketball team.
The latest returns on the Friars are very good ones. After getting knocked around a bit in the first half, the Friars fought back with a vengeance in the second and rode out of the Prudential Center with a 71-67 win at Seton Hall Saturday. Providence (9-3) won its Big East opener thanks to a dominating 44-31 second half and huge efforts from veteran Ed Croswell (21 points, 9 rebounds) and super soph Bryce Hopkins (24 points, 10 boards).
The excitement the Friars took out of this second road win of the season was palpable. PC came in as short underdogs and proved to be more than willing to fight back and get a victory that Cooley labeled “an old school Big East win.”
Why old school? For one, Seton Hall (7-5) likes to grind opponents and for a half that worked pretty well. Riding the superlative scoring moves of Kadary Richmond (28 points), the Hall staked itself to 36-27 halftime edge. The Friars came out cool but the final 9:14 of the opening half was a killer. PC managed just one field goal (1-of-13 finish) over that stretch and watched a 22-20 lead quickly evaporate. Seton Hall finished the half on a 14-4 run as Richmond scored nine of the 14. Cooley sent a variety of suspects at the junior wing slasher but no one matched up as a defender.
“Kadary, I know we’ll face them again but he’s a very good player. Tough to stop,” Cooley said.
At the half Cooley altered the offense with a concerted effort to get the ball into Hopkins’ hands and pound it inside to Ed Croswell. That move worked as the PC offense stole the show in the opening eight minutes and the tempo of the entire game changed. “Every possession, we were trying to impose our will in front of the rim,” Cooley said. “Them two guys, Ed has been around and Bryce is growing up in front of of eyes.”
The Friars ended the game with 34 points in the paint, 22 in the second half where the offense scored 44 points on 50 percent shooting.
“Me and Bryce work like this together in practice all the time,” Croswell said. “Coming into the game like this you’re not going to be phased by much.”
Providence opened the second half on a 20-7 run with Hopkins and Croswell carrying the bulk of the load. PC went ahead 42-41 and led by as much as 47-43 on a Hopkins power move to the rim. But the Hall was far from through, especially the powerful Richmond. He worked his way to the hoop and a 3-pointer by Al-Amir Dawes helped the Pirates go up 55-53.
The Friars answered with what was the game’s biggest counter-punch. A critical 9-0 run opened up 63-57 lead with Croswell powering inside for a 3-point play, Hopkins nailing a 3-pointer from the wing, Devin Carter flying in for a slam off a turnover and Croswell slamming inside.
Closing the game out, however, was not as smooth.
Providence led 65-58 with 2:31 left and still appeared in control at 67-60 with 1:34 left but critical mistakes opened the door for the Hall. Richmond, saddled with four fouls, hit two free throws to get the Hall going and during one stretch the Friars offered an offensive screening foul on Croswell, a Noah Locke rebounding foul and a Jared Bynum turnover. That mess handed the Pirates four points and when Hopkins was blocked around the rim, Richmond rolled in for a layup at the other end to cut the deficit to 67-66 with just 17 seconds on the clock.
The Pirates quickly fouled Alyn Breed but the junior guard calmly drained two clutch free throws to push the lead out to 69-66 with 15 seconds left. Seton Hall pushed the ball back at the Friars but a Al-Amir Dawes 3-pointer missed. K.C. Ndefo was fouled on the rebound with just four seconds left and he made one, missed the second and Hopkins grabbed his 10th rebound to secure the victory.
Several developments were notable in this vital road victory, especially heading into Tuesday’s home date against a very good Marquette team. Cooley used all 10 of his players in the first half but tightened the rotation to just seven in the second. That allowed Hopkins to really settle into the game and he delivered with 16 points and all 10 of his rebounds. Croswell stayed out of foul trouble until the final minute and also came up big after the half with 16 of his 21 points.
“It was the first Big East game of the year so we had some jitters,” Hopkins said, “but I feel like we fought back, we locked in coming into the second half. That was big for us.”