Nate Watson and Noah Horchler block path to the rim in PC’s season-opening win (Photo: Stew Milne)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
PROVIDENCE – Well Ed Cooley and his bunch have a lot to work on, and a lot to build on.
There’s the chief take-away from Providence’s season-opening 80-73 win over Fairfield. The Friars threatened to shake loose of the Metro Atlantic contenders a few times in the second half but never could get the job done. They were helped by a parade to the foul line, even if making two in a row proved to be much too much of a chore (19-of-28 in the half). And the Friars had Nate Watson (22 points, 10-of-14 FG) and the Stags did not.
There were positives and negatives in this one but like any seasoned coach, Cooley harped on all the negatives. The one point that he voiced that seemed almost hard to believe was the theory that his team of grizzled veterans, seniors to the core, may have somehow overlooked Fairfield because of a 97-56 thrashing in last year’s season opener.
If that was indeed the case, this Friar team may own more issues than were on display on the court.
“Like Coach said we didn’t bring the right approach to the game,” said Watson. “I think we kind of looked at the score last year and thought this was going to be a walk in the park. It definitely wasn’t.”
Anyways, here is the coach flipping through a litany of Capital I Issues:
To continue along, the statistical lowlights included Fairfield out-rebounding the Friars, 35-32. Also the supposedly better-shooting Friars made just 4-of-18 from downtown.
The Stags, who return their entire team from a squad that lost to Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels, ran excellent offense in the first half (52% FG) by consistently putting PC into ball screen situations. The Friars tightened things up in the second half (36%) and couldn’t keep the pressure on the Providence defense.
The Friars offense execution was strong most of the way. The Friars actually made 14-of-18 two point tries in the opening half yet somehow led by just 42-35. The bugaboo was turnovers as the Friars gave the ball away eight times.
In the end the Friars wore down the Stags with big man Watson doing the honors. The senior star worked hard for position and consistently carved out space. Noah Horchler, his frontcourt mate, found him three times around the rim. “That’s something we work on in practice,” Watson said. “In practice we’re always going high-low . Noah’s my roommate so we’ve definitely built that chemistry since last year.”
On the perimeter, Al Durham hit 9-of-12 free throws and finished with 18 points. A.J. Reeves added 13 for the Friars.
“I thought our opponent played great. I think they’re going to have a great year. I like their leadership, I like their toughness,” Cooley said. “We were fortunate to win. We made a lot of mistakes against a really determined basketball team. A bounce here or there and the game could have went any way.”
The Friars are back in action Thursday against Sacred Heart. The Pioneers were 86-81 winners in overtime over La Salle Tuesday night so they’ll come in pumped and jacked.
The Friars? They’ll need to concentrate on hitting the boards as a unit. There is no reason why Reeves, for example, can’t corral more than one rebound in 31 minutes. And the Friars need more of everything from point guard Jared Bynum, who managed 8 points and 4 assists in 25 minutes but did not impact the game with his quickness and passing ability like he needs to.
For an opening game, the Friars have a lot to work on and a lot to build on.
Oh, and lest we forget, thank you for the Promotion Guru who lined up my girl, Red Panda. Bring her back anytime.