UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The last time LaDontae Henton scored a career high, the ending wasn’t so good, although it was dramatic. His coach had nothing good to say about him after the game. It wasn’t a good night, really.
“After that game, I went to my room, cut the lights off and went to sleep,” the senior recalled. “I was mad. I hate losing. It doesn’t matter how many points I scored, it’s about winning at the end of the day.”
The game was a rare trip across town to play at Brown. Usually the Bears head across town, but on this occasion it was the Friars who were the visiting team, and they lost on a buzzer-beater. Henton had 37 points, at one point scoring 24 straight Providence points, but head coach Ed Cooley, normally upbeat and energetic, was neither after the game. Asked about Henton that night, he said, “LaDontae was gross defensively, he was the worst defender in the building. LaDontae couldn’t guard an ant in ant building.”
Sunday was a little different. Henton set a new career high with 38 points on 14-19 shooting, and the game had a dramatic ending all the same, but this time there was a world of difference. This time, his Providence team was on the winning end, holding off two last-second attempts by Notre Dame to hang on for a 75-74 win on Sunday. Henton had a hand in the final seconds as well. This time, Henton had a hand in the ending, bothering a shot that could have won it.
That’s one way in which Cooley couldn’t stop talking about how much the senior forward has grown. Rather than words indicating frustration on one night, he had many positives. It helps that in this one, Henton made a big defensive play to go with his career-high scoring afternoon.
“I’m really, really proud of him. He’s grown up, I’ve seen him become a man,” said Cooley. “Today it came together for him. He had one of those senior moments, and it was sentimental because I’ve seen how much this kid has grown.”
Of course, the setting was a little different, too. Not only were the Friars not playing across town from home, but rather, just across the state line, but they were playing with a partisan crowd in their favor. Even Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey noted that this was basically a road game for his team.
Henton has been a consistent offensive player his entire career, and he’s been under the radar as Cooley noted. For his first two years, the Big East was still loaded, as the conference sent nine teams to the NCAA Tournament his freshman year, then eight a year later. Providence was not a part of that contingent either year. Last year, he was overshadowed by Doug McDermott and his own teammate, Bryce Cotton. Plus, his career has also been marked by the team constantly being hit by numerous injuries that reduce their depth significantly. One of those Friars who has been injured in the past, Kris Dunn, went down Sunday after a great play to save a ball and lead to a basket, and Henton probably spoke for all of the Friar faithful of how he held his breath when that happened.
“Every time,” Henton said. “The coaching staff doesn’t want to see him on the floor, I don’t want to see him on the floor. That’s my brother, off the court and on the court, so for me to see him down like that, it’s hurtful. He’s a tough guy, he fought through it.”
Dunn can be a difference-maker if he stays healthy. He’s an elite defender and a capable floor leader, and he can help make this talented but young team greater than the sum of their parts.
Providence will ride Henton and fellow forward Tyler Harris as far as they can while perimeter scorers develop. That could be a while, though, as backcourt depth is at a premium for this team, and Dunn has been more of a facilitator than a scorer while Kyron Cartwright is undersized playing off the ball. Freshman Jalen Lindsey, another option on the perimeter, has already been hit by the injury bug twice. Meanwhile, the Friars have a wealth of options up front, which allows them to play Henton at small forward and have a lot of freedom as well as be in a prime position for plays they can run for him.
The Friars appear to be growing up fast, though it’s still early and the non-conference schedule will only get tougher with trips to Kentucky and Boston College followed by home dates with arch-rival Rhode Island, America East favorite Stony Brook and UMass. They also go to Brooklyn to play a Miami team that beat Florida and won the Charleston Classic.
All while under the radar, Henton has scored over 1,500 points and could become the seventh Providence player with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career. He’s also grabbed a mantle of leadership on this team. Sunday night was a little better night than the last time he posted a career high in scoring, and more importantly an indication of what he has become.