by Jack Belanger ’21
Before his team’s upset win over Butler University on Feb. 1, Providence College Men’s Basketball head coach Ed Cooley told his players that it was going to be an “old-school Big East game.”
“I said, ‘We don’t need to play pretty. We just need to play efficient enough to win,’” Cooley explained. The Friars were able to come out on top 65-61, holding the Bulldogs 1-14 from the three-point line.
The win was much needed as the Friars were playing their fourth consecutive game against a ranked opponent, snapping a three-game losing streak.
Cooley found the right formula as he started big men Kalif Young ’20 and Nate Watson ’21 together for the first time and benched Alpha Diallo ’20, making it the team’s seventh different lineup of the season. Watson was coming off a great game against Villanova University where he had season highs of 18 points and nine rebounds. Against the Bulldogs he had another solid game, scoring nine points on 4-7 shooting in only 17 minutes.
If the Friars want to build momentum from this game and push for a tournament bid, they will have to do two things: keep playing tough defense and embrace the young talent.
The offense has not been getting it done for the Friars all season. Outside of David Duke ’22, no player with 50 or more three-point attempts is shooting over 35 percent from deep. The team also posts the worst field goal percentage in the Big East. Thankfully, they have given up the fourth fewest points in the leagues and are second in steals.
After his 30-point game against Creighton University, it has become clear that Duke is the team’s best player this season. Despite being second on the team in points, he has shot the ball efficiently from the floor at 41.4 percent overall and 44.4 percent from three. He is also leading the team in assists and has grabbed the third most rebounds.
In the past, Cooley’s offense has always relied on strong point guards such as Kyron Cartwright ’18 and Kris Dunn ‘16 to make a play when the team needs it. It is time to give Duke control and move away from the flex offense.
It is also time to give more touches to Watson in the post. With the lack of shooting depth, Watson is the next best option, shooting 52.4 percent while hitting 79.2 percent of his free throws in Big East games.
This also means Cooley should move the offense away from Diallo and Luwane Pipkens ’19G, who were supposed to be the main guys going into the season. While both have had their share of highlights, neither have been productive enough to overcome their inefficiencies.
Diallo has regressed this season as a shooter, posting career lows in field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage, while also shooting under 30 percent from three. His season hit a low point against Villanova when he got benched early after going 0-6 shooting with three turnovers and fouls. While his versatility remains valuable, he cannot keep shooting like he is the number one option.
After scoring 22 points off the bench, Pipkens may have finally found a role as the sixth man. He has not shot consistently enough from deep to be starting every game, and he operates at his best when he gets to the free-throw line. He is only shooting 31.1 percent from three and often the ball gets stuck in his hands. Both of his 20-point games this season have come when he went 10-10 from the free-throw line. Having him come off the bench against the opponent’s second unit will give him the chance to thrive.
It is hard to believe that the Friars are tied for fifth in the standings, but they are getting the job done. The Friars still need some help if they are going to make it into the tournament; however, the Butler win gives them some life. With nine games left in the regular season, the Friars will need to go at least 6-3 and win two games in the Big East tournament in order to reach the 20 wins Cooley usually targets. They have a tough stretch ahead of them, but things are starting to move in the right direction for the Friars.