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Providence opens with a win they can be happy about

November 9, 2013 Columns No Comments

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – You can’t blame Providence if they’re feeling especially good after Friday night’s 82-78 overtime win over Boston College. It came at the end of what has not been a good stretch and with a lot of in-game adversity, and then they had to start with an opponent much like themselves in having something to prove in the opener.

To begin with, you wouldn’t have been crazy to think Boston College was the favorite despite being on the road. Providence entered the game fresh off the suspension of freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock being announced a couple of days earlier, and was already without injured point guard Kris Dunn, who might be the team’s most important player. Bryce Cotton was also limited coming into the game due to a sore knee, having not practiced for over a week. While BC wasn’t at full strength, either, as Lonnie Jackson and Dennis Clifford sat due to injury, Providence was clearly at a deficit personnel-wise.

“The elephant in the room is it’s been a tough week for us,” said head coach Ed Cooley. “We prepared for seven weeks a particular style of play that we had to adjust in literally three days. I thought all of our seniors, led by Cotton, had an impact in today’s game.”

Then there was in-game adversity. Providence led for most of the first half, although they couldn’t shake the Eagles and eventually gave up the lead late in the half. When BC ran off 11 straight to end the first and start the second half, you wondered if it wouldn’t be long before they took control of the game. But that never happened, and even when the Eagles rallied by running off six straight to take a 65-64 lead with 1:27 left in regulation, it was only briefly. It wasn’t a back-breaker.

Then the Friars overcame more in overtime. Kadeem Batts was never really a factor, although he did have the basket that responded to the aforementioned 6-0 run by the Eagles. He was one of three Friars to foul out in overtime, leaving them to subsist with a lineup that included Lee Goldsbrough and walk-on Ted Bancroft. Both contributed more than anyone might have imagined last year, but they won’t make any All-Big East teams, either.

“Those kids are great glue guys, send messages every time they’re out there, they have no agenda, they just want to win,” said BC head coach Steve Donahue of Goldsbrough and Bancroft.

The Friars got a contribution from everyone, even small ones in limited minutes from the likes of Goldsbrough, Brice Kofane and Bancroft in ten minutes or less. Carson Desrosiers, playing in his first game after he sat out last season as a transfer from Wake Forest, had seven points, five rebounds and two blocks, but more importantly, as Cooley said, “gave us a big-time presence in there.” Josh Fortune fouled out but had 15 points on 4-7 shooting, hitting several shots at key junctures of the game.

LaDontae Henton was one of the big contributors, a big positive. He had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and he was also a factor defensively as at times he gave Olivier Hanlan a different look. Cooley has been critical of Henton’s defense in the past, but that was part of how he earned his stripes on Friday. While he’s always been able to score, last season he fell off from a consistency standpoint, and they will need him to be more like his freshman year.

As much as anyone, however, Cotton carried this team to victory. He scored 22 of his 28 points after the intermission, including seven in the extra session, and also ran the show as capably as he could. He keyed the early second-half rally, scored the Friars’ last four points in regulation and seven of their 12 in overtime, almost out-scoring BC by himself.

“I think we’re so blessed to have a young man with his ability,” said Cooley. “He’s sore, didn’t practice for ten days. To put a cape on and do what he did today was great. I thought it was an unbelievable team win.”

Cotton had to run the show because of Dunn’s injury, and reading between the lines you get the sense he could be out for a while. Cooley said his status is day-to-day but expressed uncertainty, and as the injury is to the same shoulder he had surgery on over a year ago, there is certainly reason for pause. Dunn is not only the floor leader, but an elite defender, and if Cotton has to play on the ball more that means an adjustment even though he has done it before.

More importantly, he will do it.

“It’s just been challenging mentally, but my teammates have always encouraged me and let me go at my own pace,” said Cotton. “I didn’t want to let the guys down considering we’re such a special team, we love one another and view each other as brothers.”

Providence has their eye on making the NCAA Tournament after coming up a little short last season. The Friars made a good run in the NIT, and with a lot of that team back there is reason for optimism that they can take the next step this season. If Dunn is out for a prolonged period of time or has to redshirt, that will be a major blow, and the disciplinary issues are concerning. But they overcame injuries last season, too, and expect to do it again if need be.

Friday night’s win is a good start in that it should have shelf life later in the season. It’s an even bigger win considering what they had to overcome to get there. And as a result, they should feel pretty good about how they have started the season, as it’s the kind of win that can set a great tone for the season.

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