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Blowout win may be just what Providence needed

November 17, 2013 Columns No Comments

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Saturday was a little different for Providence. The final score against Marist – a 93-48 romp – would jump out at anyone all by itself, and while understandable it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Providence won their first two games by four points each. They pulled one out in overtime against Boston College in the opener, then survived against cross-town rival Brown, who beat them across town last year, a few nights later. They won the games despite shooting below 41 percent from the field and allowing opponents to shoot over 45 percent. The big stat is that they out-rebounded their two opponents by 14 per game.

In light of that, it was probably nice to have a laugher mixed in on Saturday, one whose outcome wasn’t in doubt for most of it. The game was even early on, but once Providence scored 14 unanswered points to take an 18-6 lead it was never a ballgame again, with the Friars at one point leading 41-8 in the first half. A look at the box score gives an idea of the thorough domination in this one, but that’s not the important story.

The bright spots were many, but three players stand out the most: Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton. All stand out for different reasons, but they’ve all been instrumental in the 3-0 start.

Batts didn’t look good in the season opener against Boston College even aside from fouling out. He didn’t shoot well (2-11 from the field) and was never a factor in the game. You hardly knew he was on the floor for much of the night. Against Brown, he was much better with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds, and on Saturday he was a factor from the outset and played well against taller players at times, going for 22 points on 9-11 shooting and grabbing ten rebounds.

With Kris Dunn still out, possibly facing a redshirt if surgery is needed, Cotton has had to play out of position at the point. He’s done so very admirably, as he’s been able to score and involve his teammates, but one wonders how sustainable that is over the course of a season, especially against better defensive teams. He scored 28 points and handed out 11 assists with just one turnover on Saturday. The minutes he’s had to play could catch up to him, especially as he hasn’t been fully healthy, so being able to limit him to 29 minutes helps since he came into the game having played all but three available minutes on the season.

“He wasn’t feeling well after the game” said head coach Ed Cooley. “His stomach, his knee, his groin – is he really 21 years old? The guy’s got more aches and pains than I do, and I’m a hundred.”

Perhaps most promising of all, Henton has started off his junior season in grand fashion after what can be best termed a slump year last season. All of his numbers were down last season, but he’s averaging very close to a double-double and looks much like the scorer he was as a freshman. For the most part, he’s scoring by playing off everyone else, and has perhaps benefited as much as anyone from Cotton’s solid play running the team.

Besides that, Tyler Harris looks like he is shaking off the rust from sitting out last season after transferring from NC State. Cooley has a lot of options with him in the lineup given the length he has to go with others, and the offense took more strides on Saturday with 13 points on 6-9 shooting.

“I’m getting back into that rhythm of games,” said Harris. “It feels great to be back out there again, and I feel like the year that I sat out is paying off.”

The Friars have essentially played six players, so getting Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock back from their suspensions wouldn’t hurt as well from a depth standpoint. That’s especially true when one considers that Josh Fortune, whose forte is making shots, isn’t hitting right now, as he came in shooting below 42 percent from the floor and was 2-7 on Saturday, including 1-6 from long range. While he has done well to not let that affect other parts of his game, as he added four assists and five steals in 37 minutes, Austin and Bullock offer another option off the ball.

“We’re still trying to come up with chemistry and a rotation, being down Dunn and Austin and Bullock,” Cooley said. “A lot of our guys are logging a lot of minutes.”

Providence welcomes Vermont on Monday in a game that won’t be nearly as easy, then they head to the Paradise Jam, opening with Vanderbilt. They’ve had a nice run at home to start, but now the slate gets more challenging, and the question of whether or not Dunn will play could loom larger. Right now, the big question is how to deal with a lack of depth, as it’s more likely Austin and Bullock are in a game before Dunn is and the minutes could add up fast.

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