Friars Shouldn’t Have to Steal One at Home
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A team that’s going to reach the NCAA Tournament sometimes needs to steal a game along the way. In light of that, Providence’s 71-70 win stolen from Cincinnati might seem very good at first glance. There’s just one little problem with this scenario.
This game was on Providence’s home floor, against the team at the bottom of the Big East standings.
“Basically, we were holding on for dear life,” head coach Tim Welsh said.
That about summed it up. That also sums up why, though the Friars and the faithful who stayed after they went down eight with 1:41 to go celebrated the win, they can’t get too high from it.
Teams that don’t have much margin for error need to steal a road game or two while holding serve at home. The Friars, who had lost four of six prior coming in, haven’t looked sharp lately and that didn’t change much on Tuesday night. This wasn’t a game they should have had to steal, especially at home.
All night long, the Friars struggled with Cincinnati’s zone defense. It wasn’t Syracuse, but the Friars did a lot of east-west ball movement and turned the ball over when they actually tried to move it elsewhere. They committed 19 turnovers, which the Bearcats cashed in for 26 points. To their credit, when they weren’t turning the ball over, the Friars were usually scoring. They shot over 44 percent from long range, which helped bail them out, led by an 8-16 showing from hero Sharaud Curry (24 points, including the last nine of the game) and Weyinmi Efejuku (13 points), and overall they shot over 55 percent for the game.
What’s even more concerning about their play against the zone is what the coach noted after the game when asked about it.
“I think we were just a little out of rhythm against it,” admitted Welsh. “We were prepared for it. We play against it every day in practice, it’s just a basic 2-3.”
That’s the heart of it right there. This isn’t something the Friars never see. It wasn’t a gimmick, and it’s the defense they practice against. The turnovers are an aberration, as it wasn’t a high total for the season, but a large percentage of them translated to points for the Bearcats. That the Friars didn’t seem to know what to do against it doesn’t speak well of where they’re at.
Defensively, the Friars weren’t much better despite a 32-22 edge on the boards. The Bearcats shot 50 percent, including 8-20 from long range, but the disturbing statistic is points in the paint. Cincinnati, with less size than the big, physical Friars that have won plenty of battles in the paint this season, had a 30-20 edge in points in the paint. This is a team the Friars should have dominated inside with the Bearcats’ lack of size.
Providence led for much of the first half and the early going in the second half, but you never felt like they were going to break it open. Indeed, they never did, as their biggest lead was seven and the Bearcats had a number of chances at the lead that they didn’t convert during the course of the game.
That looked like it would come back to haunt them in the final minutes, when the Bearcats got hot from long range and went up 70-62 with 1:41 left. Fans headed for the exits, with many directing their ire at Welsh – whose job is still on the line – and the way the Friars had been playing, no one could blame them. It was a very cold night outside and nothing the Friars had done in the final minutes, or for that matter all night long, indicated that they had a comeback in them. And who knew that Curry would even get the chance to hoist up his runner from the left elbow in the final minute, let alone watch it somehow go in to tie the game before his free throw was the deciding margin.
While Providence did come back from the deficit, they had plenty of help. Cincinnati did plenty to give this game right back, from missing two front ends of one-and-ones at the foul line (they were just 4-14 from the foul line in the game) to a backcourt violation, giving the Friars chances even after the Friars threw the ball out of bounds near their bench. It wasn’t hard to tell that this Cincinnati team isn’t long on experience, and it probably surprises no one that they are now 0-4 this season in games decided by three points or less.
It would be one thing if Tuesday night’s game was an isolated event; every team has a game where they play exceedingly well or downright poor. But this game continues a bad trend for the Friars, as ever since they’ve had to go on the road a few times, they haven’t been the same. They’ve lost just twice at home all year, but have won just once on the road. That has to change, and they can’t really afford to not hold serve at home at this point. The road difficulty won’t go away easily with trips to Pittsburgh and Notre Dame right around the corner.
That means that it’s time for the Friars to get their act together if they want to be an NCAA Tournament team. They still need to hold serve at home, but with the way they’ve played lately that’s hardly a given. They shouldn’t have to steal one at home from a team at the bottom of the conference standings.