By Jack Belanger ’21
It would be an understatement to say it has been a tough past two years for center Emmitt Holt ‘19GS who has dealt with many ups and downs during his time at Providence College. After having a successful 2016-17 season, Holt suffered an abdominal injury that caused him to miss the entire 2017-18 season. Despite getting a full year to recover, he would only appear in six games the next season and would eventually red shirt once again to gain a sixth year of eligibility.
That made the moment all the more special when the home crowd gave Holt a standing ovation when he checked into the game for the first time in the opening half against Sacred Heart University. He brought the crowd to its feet shortly after when he made his first shot behind the three-point line. His play helped spark the Friars to jump out to an early lead that they would not relinquish for the entire game, beating the Pioneers 106-60. After the game, Holt spoke on the standing ovation he received.
“It was a great moment for me and my teammates. It’s great to be recognized for all the hard work I’ve been putting in at practice.”
Head Coach Ed Cooley was also really happy to see his veteran to come back after two years that challenged Holt mentally and physically.
“I was really proud to see Emmitt out there and how the crowd reacts to him.”
It was a dominant performance on both ends of the court for the Friars, a pleasing sight for a team that finished last season 7-11 in the Big East. Seven players scored in double figures for the team, led by Alpha Diallo ’20 with 19 to go along with his team-leading 14 rebounds. The team also showed a willingness to share the ball, witnessed by 31 assists on 39 buckets.
Coach Cooley raved about how experienced the team will be this year, noting that sophomores A.J. Reeves ’22 and David Duke ’22 have matured a lot since last year. The two combined for 26 points, 12 assists, and, most importantly, no turnovers.
Newcomer Luwane Pipkens ’19GS got the start in his first game for the team. The former University of Massachusetts-Amherst guard came out firing on all cylinders, scoring 11 points in the first half with five assists. He also showed off on the defensive end with three steals throughout the night — an effort that sparked the team emotionally.
“It’s a blessing for me,” Pipkens said on coming to PC. “I’m enjoying myself. I’m happy to be here and try to win some games.”
Going into halftime, the Friars nearly doubled the Pioneers’ score, leading 59-30, as Diallo, Pipkens, and Holt all had 11 or more points. Top recruit Greg Gantt ’23 entered the game with about four minutes left in the half and scored his first college points on a fadeaway a minute later. He would hit the first three shots of his career and finish with seven points.
“He has an ‘it’ factor,” Cooley said of the freshman. “He has a very active body. He has never worked this hard in his life.”
PC’s defense put together a complete 40-minute effort that stifled anything Sacred Heart was trying to do with the ball. Holt and Kalif Young ‘20 provided the Friars with strong interior defense that held Sacred Heart to only 24 points in the paint and 32.2 percent shooting from the floor. Young, who got the start in place of the injured Nate Watson ’21, recorded two blocks and steals apiece and after the game was praised by Cooley as one of the best defenders in the country.
In the second half, the Friars raised their intensity on defense and extended their lead to 49 points at one point. PC scored 30 points off of 19 turnovers. The team also pushed the pace on offense, highlighted by the team’s 16 fast break points, which is a new change Cooley plans to emphasize this season.
“We want to try to score off our defense more. Normally some of our teams have played a little slower; we are trying to be one of the fastest teams in the country endline-to-endline.”
With such a deep team this year, Cooley is not worried about wearing his team down early on.
As PC was able to extend their lead late in the game, Cooley was able to give his bench some extended minutes as nine players got 10-plus minutes of action. Even walk-ons Drew Fonts ’21 and Tommy Dempsey ’23 got multiple minutes at the end of the game. Fonts took advantage of the extended minutes and scored five points and recorded an assist.
The Friars will now prepare for their next game against New Jersey Institute of Technology on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The game will once again be at home and PC will be looking to start the season 2-0. Cooley and the team hope Jimmy Nichols ‘22 will be able to return after he was not feeling well enough to play in the home opener.