Friars hold off Warriors and keep searching for answers
Bryce Hopkins was one of four Friars in double figures vs. Merrimack
By KEVIN McNAMARA
PROVIDENCE – Ed Cooley’s trying, often frustrating, chemistry project continued Wednesday night at the Amica Mutual Pavilion.
Cooley’s Providence Friars were coming off a two-loss weekend in the Hall of Fame Tipoff where all sorts of issues came to light. The biggest, and best, antidote for most is simply time and game reps to bring a group that owns varied talents together and make it a team. How long will this take, how many lumps must this team feel before it sees the light?
No one knows, lest of all Cooley. He wore that frustrated look throughout a 71-57 win over Merrimack where the Friars held the opponent to 38 percent shooting, won the rebound battle 43-21 and never came close to losing the lead.
But problems were apparent. The Friars turned the ball over 14 times against Merrimack’s zone defense and could only manage three 3-pointers on the night. Jared Bynum seemed set to play more of a distributor role and did have 6 assists but he’s clearly out of sorts finding his niche with this team as his 2-of-3 shooting attests.
“I thought we were a little lackluster today,” Cooley said. “Happy with the win coming off losing two games. We didn’t have a lot of energy out there, which I was disappointed with. We just have a long way to go to be the team that we want to be. Overall just a sub-par effort.”
Four Friars scored in double figures with Ed Croswell leading the way with seven layups and three free throws for his 17 points. Noah Locke hit two of PC’s three 3-pointers and finished with 14 points while Bryce Hopkins added 13 points and 9 rebounds and Devin Carter filled the stat sheet with12 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and seven turnovers.
The Friars (4-2) appeared to have Merrimack (1-5) on the ropes for long stretches of the game but the Warriors would not go away. The final window for the Friars to apply a knockout came with 11:31 left when a Clifton Moore jam made it 53-41. But that would not last.
A lane hook and then 3-pointer by Ziggy Reid (21 points) cut PC’s lead to just 55-48. The lead flip-flopped around 10 points for the next several minutes but when Bynum’s first 3-point try of the game swished through the hoop, the Friars led 64-51 with five minutes on the clock. They would not be threatened again.
Even so, Cooley is expecting much more from the team. It’s simple and easy to say the Friars should’ve pushed a 14-point first half lead to over 20, that’s easier said than done. The coach is clearly still tinkering with lineups and combinations. The best example there is in the person of Alyn Breed. The junior guard didn’t play in a loss to Saint Louis Sunday, and Cooley said that wasn’t a punishment. Well Breed played 18 non-descript minutes against Merrimack, while the guard who replaced him against the Billikens (Corey Floyd) didn’t see any time against the Warriors.
“Just having so many (new) people try to understand the culture of our organization with energy and gratitude and appreciation for the moment,” Cooley said. “We just have to continue to get better and work at it. I don’t know what’s missing.”
Asked if he could see the pieces of his team coming together soon, Cooley demurred and said “it could take some while. It could take rotational things. When you’re tinkering here, I thought we’d be in a better place as far as continuity and chemistry but if we’re being real and open and honest we still have some work to do. It’s why we scheduled the way we schedule. I’ve been doing this too long to think that -poof- happen overnight.”
This Friar team was supposed to revolve around Bynum and his varied skills but that hasn’t been the case. He’s still trying to find his sweet spot with this group and his new teammates are fitting in around him. It’s a process that needs to come together sooner than later.
“These players don’t know Jared in the games yet,” Cooley said. “As much as there’s competition in practice, games are just a different deal. The energy, the crowd, the expectation, kids get nervous. So there’s a lot of question marks and we have to answer them pretty quick.”
Providence hosts Columbia on Saturday and then turns around for a tough week with games at Texas Christian and Rhode Island. So, yes, the answers need to come pretty quick.