Friars Locked in During NCAA Tournament
Kansas University and the First Sweet Sixteen in 25 Years is Ahead
Joseph Quirk ’23
The month of March is synonymous with two things: luck and madness. Despite all the chaos and craziness the other 11 months of the year can offer, few have a case to match up against the month of St. Patrick’s Day, the day of the year most associated with luck and chaos, and of course, March Madness, otherwise known as the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
There are 64 teams invited to the tournament, any of whom can win on a given day. If you are a college basketball fan, this is the best time of the year. And with all the luck that comes with St. Patrick’s Day and all the luck needed to win in March, the “luckiest team in the country” needs all the luck they can heading into the big dance.
The Providence College Friars Men’s Basketball team headed into this weekend excited. Fresh off their first Big East regular season title in school history, the Friars would own the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament.
The Big East tournament itself was celebrating its 40th anniversary of being hosted by Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena. The biggest stage, in the biggest city, the Friar fans came out in force. Descending on MSG and New York City, head coach Ed Cooley was quick to tab MSG as “the Dunk South” as during the Friars first game against Butler University, loud cheers in support of the Friars were heard all afternoon.
The Butler Bulldogs were coming off an overtime thriller of a win the night before over Xavier University. However, in a start like far too many this season, the Friars started off slow. They had trouble scoring and playing defense.
The only Friar who really showed up was big man Nate Watson ’22, who finished the game leading the Friars with 26 points, added seven rebounds, and a block. Redshirt junior guard Jared Bynum ’23 also had a solid afternoon with 16 points. But once again, the Friars came back and gritted out a win, a common theme for the “luckiest team in the country” this season.
When asked on Friday about his team’s performance, Coach Cooley referenced Thursday’s matchup saying, “Quite frankly I didn’t think we played well yesterday, and we just found a way to win.” This has been the theme of the Friars entire dream season, gutting out ways to win.
Prior to Friday’s matchup against Creighton University, the Friars were 18-20 in games decided by 10-points or less and 12-14 in games decided by five points or less. Both of the losses were to Villanova University, who won both games by a total margin of victory of seven points.
The Friars’ total record was 25-4, meaning close to half of their wins were decided by fewer than five points and just over half were decided by 10 points. That is a scary thin margin of victory; even though it can be said that this is a veteran savvy team that finds ways to win, which is invaluable in March, it still is a dangerously fine line.
The other two losses the Friars had suffered this season to a team not named Villanova University were by 32 points in an away game to Marquette University and by 18 points to the University of Virginia. Safe to say that when it rains, it pours on the Friars.
On Friday the Friars played the Creighton Blue Jays, the No. 4 seed in the tournament coming off a thriller against Marquette. And Creighton dominated.
The Friars struggled once they let Creighton get on a big run in the first half and could never regain any momentum. Their defense fell apart. They couldn’t score either inside or outside and Creighton big man Ryan Kalkbrenner, the Big East defensive player of the year, dominated to the tune of 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. This, added with Alex O’Connell’s team leading 18 points, Arthur Kaluma’s 17 points and Trey Alexander’s 15 points led Creighton to an easy 42-27 victory.
After the game coach Cooley spoke on trying to keep his squad motivated, saying, “When you play a game like this you know A) your ego can get shattered and B) your confidence can get shattered, and I just want them to understand that it is only one game. Obviously, it’s a really big stage, great arena, great support, great crowd, that’s what the Big East tournament is about.”
Coach Cooley also noted that he thought that the team’s best basketball was ahead of them and that they had earned the right to play in the coming NCAA tournament. He remained firm in his belief that whomever the Friars face next, they can beat.
The concern, however, must be the slow starts. Cooley’s team can pull comebacks against Depaul and Butler any day, but when facing some of the top competition from the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC, that may be a much taller task.
Plus, it needs to be remembered that the 18-point loss to Virginia, the Friar’s first of the season, came on a neutral court, to a worse team on the second day of a back-to-back. That was the exact same scenario that the Friars faced when they were blown out by Creighton. When the tournament arrives, the Friars’ are going to need to be able to play consistently regardless of their schedule or location. .
Of course, the Friars’ success in the tourney will in large part be due to their seeding. Coach Cooley said that it was “something I can’t control” and that “our body of work, I just don’t want our seeding to be determined by one game.”
In terms of using this game as a humbling experience and one to rally around, Cooley said he reminded his team about their first Big East loss of the season, a 32-point loss to Marquette, after which his squad won 8 straight. However, he noted that “we don’t need to win 8.”
Since that embarrassment in the Big East tournament however, the Friars are 2-0. On Sunday, the Friars returned to a roaring crowd after a big weekend in Buffalo to kick off the March Madness tournament.
The Friars started by knocking off 13 seed South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were a popular pick to upset the Friars in the first round, with an electric offense that was one of the top in the nation and a hot streak of 21 straight wins.
But the Friars took care of business and punched their ticket to the round of 32, where they met a hot University of Richmond team, fresh off winning their own conference tournament and beating the Big 10 champion Iowa State Hawkeyes in the first round.
Still doubted, having the second consecutive game against a double digit seed and second consecutive game where they were favored by as little as under three points, the Friars routed the Spiders 79-51, in what looked like their best and most well-rounded game of the season.
Now the Friars head to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997, where they will take on the University of Kansas, a blue-blood program and number one-seed in the Midwest region.
The Friars can handle the Jayhawks, assuming they can lock down guards Ochai Agbaji and Remy Martin. The Jayhawks are a good team, coached by legendary coach Bill Self.
While this is true, this is not Self’s best squad he has ever had. If the Friars can shoot the way they have been the last couple of games, they have a legitimate shot to be in the Elite Eight.
If they can manage to pull off a upset, as Kansas is currently favored by over 7 points, then they will secure a date with another team in the double-digit seeds, either a cinderella University of Miami (FL) team or a hot Iowa State University team with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
All eyes will be on the Friars this Friday at 7:15 p.m. as the Friars tip-off against Kansas at the United Center in Chicago.
Men’s Soccer Falls in NCAA Tournament
Penalty Kick in Double-Overtime Ends Friars’ Season
By Liam Tormey ’22
The Providence College Men’s Soccer Team lost in a heartbreaking fashion this past Sunday against Clemson University, losing 1-2 in double-overtime to end their season.
The Friars went down to South Carolina last week to face off against the No. 2 team in the country. Head coach Craig Stewart’s team was not one of the 16 teams ranked heading into the tournament, but they still found themselves in the third round of the 2019 Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament, and for good reason.
After defeating New Jersey Institute of Technology at home on Nov. 21 in the first round of the tournament, the Friars traveled to PA to take on the No. 15 ranked Pennsylvania State University three days after their opening round game. Providence found themselves in a two goal deficit early in the second half, but climbed back into the game, scoring the equalizing goal from Tiago Mendonca ‘20RS with less than four minutes to play in regulation. Esben Wolf ‘23 got the Friars on the board first to start the comeback.
The game headed into overtime, and just four and a half minutes into some free soccer, Trevor Davock ‘20RS found the back of the net to complete the upset and send the Friars into the third round of tournament play. Davock also had assists on both goals in regulation. Paulo Lima ‘22 picked up an assist on the game winner.
The Friars then spent Thanksgiving break in preparation for the number two team in the country. On Sunday, the team came out and fought to the very end.
Unfortunately, after giving the Clemson University Tigers all they could handle, the team fell in overtime in the 105th minute to a 1-2 score.
The Tigers opened up the scoring in the first half with a goal in the ninth minute by their leading goal scorer of the season, Robbie Robinson. The Friars would not give up, though, and found their way into the game throughout the first half. After a Clemson corner kick right before halftime, Danny Griffin ‘20 and Mendonca found themselves on the counter attack. Mendonca tucked it into the far corner with just seven seconds left on the clock in the first half to make it 1-1.
Both sides had their chances in the second half, but 90 minutes of play would not be the way this game was going to end. Extra time would end up being the deciding factor.
After the first 10 minutes of golden goal overtime, neither team would score. In the second half of overtime, five minutes into play, the Tigers would draw a penalty inside the box. The Tigers leading goalscorer and the man who put them in the lead earlier in the game, Robinson, stepped up to send the Friars home.
The Friars gave the Tigers all they could handle with 13 shots and five on target with plenty of opportunities to score. Although this team finished before they would have liked, they have a lot of reasons to hold their heads high.
This was a team for head coach Craig Stewart that had a combination of both young and experienced players. Each side of the age group held their own for this team.
Davock, a forward, led the team in points this season with six goals and eight assists. Lima led the team in scoring and played exceptionally well in the center of the field, tallying eight goals this the year.
Austin Aviza ‘20RS was exceptional all year for the Friars. Aviza won numerous games for the Friars this season and recorded a total of 58 saves.
The Friars will not be playing soccer anymore this season, but they finish the year 16-7, third in the Big East Conference. Their season also included a trip to the Conference Finals and a third round appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Although the squad might look back and think they could have done more, the Friars had a lot of success this season.
Men’s Soccer Beats NJIT 2-0 in First Round of NCAA Tournament
Friars Defense Locks Down Highlanders
By Jack Belanger ’21
Despite it being their first NCAA Tournament game since 2016, the Providence College Men’s Soccer Team looked like a team that was no stranger to playing on the big stage. With only five players remaining from the 2016 team, the entire Friars’ roster gave incredible performances on both ends of the field. In their first ever match-up against the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders, PC took an early lead and dominated the game for the full 90 minutes, winning 2-0 in their final game at Anderson Stadium for the season.
The Friars were on the attack from the get go. Less than 10 minutes into the first half, Trevor Davock ’20RS put one into the back of the net on a crossing pass from Christopher Roman ’22. The Friars would keep NJIT busy throughout the first half with seven shots on goal.
The Friars’ defense also had a great first half, allowing only three shots total with none on goal. NJIT did not test goaltender Austin Aviza ’20RS until 68 minutes into the game.
Despite several great scoring opportunities, PC would go into halftime with a 1-0 lead. While the game remained tight, captain Joao Serrano ’20RS knew the team would cash in on their opportunities eventually.
“We knew that we were going to keep getting chances,” said Serrano. “We just had to keep sharing the ball with each other and find the open man.”
With 37 minutes left in the second half, it looked like the Friars would score their second goal as Davock got another shot past the Highlander goalie, but it was called off due to an offside call.
Later, Esben Wolf ’23 put the Friars up 2-0 when he got the ball on the left side of the box and was able to get a close shot in just to the right of NJIT’s goalie. A few minutes earlier, he had a similar shot but missed just wide of the goal.
With 13 minutes left in the game, Gil Santos ’22 almost gave the Friars their third goal of the night. After running up the right side of the field, he made a sharp move to get free from his defender and got the open shot. Unfortunately his shot was directly at the goalie.
NJIT got their best chance to get on the board with eight minutes left. The Highlanders got a pass inside the box to give Joao Costa a chance for a header. His shot would just miss and hit off the left post. The Highlanders stepped up in the second half as they out-shot PC 8-5 in the final 45 minutes.
“They came on top of us in the second half,” said Aviza. “They were really prepared, but we did well with it. It really shows our commitment to play defense.”
The defense in front of Aviza locked down NJIT all night, as he only had to make two saves the entire game. The Friars made sure to stop Highlander Rene White, who scored 17 goals on the season and was named the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year. They limited him to only one shot.
After the game Serrano, one of the few remaining players from the 2016 season, made it clear the team is still hungry for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. “We got to make sure the guys keep pushing on and are on the same page. When guys show up on the field, they got to bring their best selves.”
The Friars now advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and will head to Pennsylvania State University on Sunday to play against the No. 15 seed Nittany Lions at 5 p.m.