Charles Pride returned home and helped Bryant upset Syracuse (Photo: Michael J. Okoniewski)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
PROVIDENCE – This Thanksgiving weekend has been a Hoops Nirvana for college basketball fans.
Out in Portland, Ore., many of the best teams in the country are knocking heads and providing early returns on just who owns legitimate chops this season. Same thing in Atlantis, Las Vegas and other exotic locales. Have you seen Dan Hurley’s UConn squad? The Huskies are very good, Top 10 good.
On Saturday, local fans received their latest look at two teams perceived as the best in our little state. While the Friars were sleep-walking for more than a half through their buy game with Columbia, the Bryant Bulldogs were taking it to the Syracuse Orange up at the JMA Wireless Dome. It didn’t take long to figure out which game was more important, and entertaining.
Bryant already led the Orange in the first half when Judah Mintz was tying up a loose ball and flipped a slap at Doug Edert as bodies separated. The grad transfer from Saint Peter’s responded with a slap to Mintz’s head and that sparked all sorts of fun. After the refs made sense of it all, both teams were down a key guard but Syracuse probably took the worst of it with Mintz being their starting point guard and one of its few scorers.
Bryant responded well and pulled away from Syracuse in the final two minutes. A 40-foot buzzer-beating 3 at the horn by Sherif Gross-Bullock gave Bryant a 40-29 lead at the half. “I was concerned,” said coach Jared Grasso. “I lost three (players), they lost one. You didn’t have too much time to put thought into it. We had to just go play.”
While the Bulldogs dusted off their boxing gloves at the break, the Friars went to work in dispatching the Lions, who may just be the worst team in the Ivy League this winter. Providence led by 13 at one point in the first half but leaky defense, mainly an inability to guard the ball, let Columbia back in the game. PC led by just 38-28 at the half despite holding the Lions to 34 percent shooting.
The biggest issue for the Friars? Lack of execution on both ends but also a lack of energy, a dearth of pizzazz. That was addressed at the break by Ed Cooley and the insertion into the lineup and production of Jayden Pierre (13 points) and Alyn Breed (9 points in half) helped spark the Friars.
Providence led 46-32 early in the half, saw that lead melt to 47-41, but then three buckets in a row from Breed helped spark a 14-2 run that put the Lions into extinction. Pierre ran the team during most of the run, with Jared Bynum watching from the bench. The frosh, and other reserves, helped push the ball, spread the sugar, and spark a victory.
“If you lack energy in sport, energy is like an antibiotic, it really is,” Cooley said. “Energy works. It infuses a building, it infuses a teammate, it gives you positive things to think about. I think we have lapses with (energy). If we can consistently talk about it and build on it our program will get better but right now that’s something that we’re missing.”
As the Friars were walking off the court with a 78-64 victory, the vibe in their locker room instantly turned to their next game at TCU.
Yet up in Central New York, opportunity arose. The Bulldogs watched their 35-22 first half lead melt to 60-59 with four minutes left as Syracuse freshman Justin Taylor (25 points) heated up and sparked the expected comeback. But this Bryant team is filled with tough characters, even without a few who were watching from the locker room after being ejected.
The biggest character turned out to be Sherif Gross-Bullock, a transfer from La Salle who Atlantic 10 veterans know better as Sherif Kenney. He watched Syracuse grab a 69-67 lead with 50 seconds left but teammate Earl Timberlake coolly make two free throws to tie the game with 39 seconds left and then jumped in the passing lane and stole a Joe Girard pass and swept in for a go-ahead jam 25 seconds left for a 71-69 lead.
Two tough foul calls helped Syracuse go up 72-71 with eight seconds left but Grasso did not call a timeout and let Gross-Bullock go to work, knife into the SU zone and knock in the game-winner.
The Bulldogs won at Boston College a few years back but this win, this signature win over a traditional national power, certainly tells the nation that Grosso’s team once again means business. As he said afterwards, a slew of talented transfers have taken a chance on him and the program, finding their way to the woods of Smithfield and somehow creating a college basketball platform for success.
“It’s a credit to them,” Grasso said. “You walk in (our) locker room and you get guys who’ve been in other programs and they say “I love you, this is what I came for, thank you for bringing me here. Those things are special to me, that’s what it’s about.”