Bryce Cotton, shown in action during Providence College's game against Brown University, scored a game-high 24 points on Friday afternoon to lead the Friars to a 78-69 victory over Fairfield and help them improve to 7-1. (Photo/Ernest A. Brown)
PROVIDENCE -- Ed Cooley and his Providence College Friars ended up playing eight games in November. It nevertheless seemed that all took a backseat to the reoccurring storylines and hot topics that remain just as fervent as the calendar flips to the second month of the college basketball season.
Yes, the Friars now have seven wins against one defeat, the latest addition to the victory total coming Friday afternoon in a wire-to-wire 76-69 victory over Fairfield. All appears rosy and on the upswing in Friartown with a matchup against John Calipari and his prized collection of Kentucky wunderkinds looming on Sunday, a contest that Cooley added some additional spice to with the following chin music â€“ â€śI donâ€™t give a damn about Kentucky.â€ť
Cooley was asked Friday if he had done much homework about Julius Randle and the rest of Kentuckyâ€™s â€śBig Blue Machine.â€ť The head coach began his response by saying that he has not watched the Wildcats for one â€¦ there was no â€śsecondâ€ť or â€śmomentâ€ť that followed â€śoneâ€ť as Cooley opted to defuse the David vs. Goliath hype that he has undoubtedly heard in his travels.
â€śWeâ€™ve got some great players, too. I donâ€™t want anyone to look at my team like weâ€™re some stepchild hoping to get lucky,â€ť Cooley stated boldly. â€śWeâ€™re going to go down (to Brooklynâ€™s Barclays Center) and weâ€™re going to be confident, passionate and play with a lot of pride.â€ť
Thereâ€™s another word that begins with the letter â€śpâ€ť that Cooley should have mentioned as part of his sermon about Kentucky hoops â€“ players.
To date, the Friars have not taken the floor in the regular season with the assembled cast that was expected to be in the fold when the games started to count for real. The Nov. 2 exhibition game against Rhode Island College at The Dunk marks the only â€śgame actionâ€ť for Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin, the two first-year PC players who have logged eight straight â€śDNPsâ€ť due to an indefinite suspension that seems more bizarre and head-scratching with each passing day.
If Bullock and Austin were in truly hot water, why then were they permitted to travel to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam? Such a decision presumably opened the door for each to make their PC debuts. Alas, neither of the first-year Friars saw action during Providenceâ€™s three-game tournament run.
â€śThey are young men who have made a mistake, and their best support group was in the Virgin Islands,â€ť said Cooley. â€śI want them to know that they are supported 100 percent. They came to (Providence) to be educated and play basketball, and itâ€™s a great education to go to St. Thomas, and itâ€™s an incredible basketball situation.
â€śFor the people that thought they were going down to play, they were there to support their teammates.â€ť
In keeping with this season-long soap opera, Bullock and Austin did not view the Fairfield contest from PCâ€™s bench. Kris Dunn was spotted in basketball attire, but due to persistent shoulder woes, the sophomore point guard did not play.
â€śNot having Kris definitely hurt our depth and pace of play,â€ť Cooley said. â€śHis shoulder is sore and right now heâ€™s day-to-day. Thatâ€™s a major concern for us. Taking a talent like that off the floor definitely shortens our rotation.â€ť
Cooley mentioned that Dunn aggravated the shoulder during Mondayâ€™s Paradise Jam championship finale against Maryland, a 56-52 defeat (though that came following a spirited comeback). The decision to hold out the only true capable ball-handler on Providenceâ€™s roster was made Thursday. Dunn, who first suffered the shoulder setback during that aforementioned exhibition game against the Anchormen, has missed half of the Friarsâ€™ eight games thus far.
â€śEd and I are good buddies and we were talking before the game. He mentioned that (Dunn would be a no-go),â€ť said Fairfield mentor Sydney Johnson. â€śI think theyâ€™ve got to take care of their guys and Edâ€™s just trying to coach up the ones who are healthy.â€ť
Cooley should be pleased as punch about how his shorthanded Friars have been able to hold their heads above water and get out of November with what some might say is a surprising 7-1 record â€“ surprising because Providence is far from whole.
â€śWeâ€™ve had to adjust game to game,â€ť said Cooley about the constant shuffling and re-shuffling heâ€™s had to do. â€śA lot of our positions have been pushed up. We probably donâ€™t want (Bryce) Cotton on the ball for 40 minutes or Josh (Fortune) at the two (guard) for 40 minutes.â€ť
Along those lines, Cooley probably doesnâ€™t want to run into the same kind of situation he ran into Friday. After Fortune picked up his fourth foul with 9:23 remaining, Cooley turned to walk-on Ted Bancroft, who as of this moment is the third guard on the depth chart. It was the classic â€śnext man upâ€ť syndrome in a season where depth, particularly to the Friarsâ€™ backcourt, has received a serious jolt.
Not having the anticipated pieces has been readily apparent at times for Cooley & Co. Providence was the definition of a yo-yo in the Virgin Islands, playing well for stretches followed by segments where nothing seemed to go right. That inconsistent pattern held true against Fairfield as the Friars went from on the verge of running the Stags out of the building â€“ PC went up by 19 points at 5:27 of the opening half â€“ to allowing the visitors to creep back into the picture.
The Stags cut it to 46-40 early in the second half and were within nine points at 64-55 with five minutes remaining. In each instance, the Friars were able to turn on the afterburners and pull away.
â€śThe guys who are playing, theyâ€™re tough guys,â€ť said PCâ€™s LaDontae Henton, who filled up the box score with 12 points, seven rebounds and five steals.
Cotton ended up logging 38 minutes while Henton played 39. Even though he picked up his fourth foul with a ton of time remaining, Fortune appeared in 38 more.
Such heavy workloads probably wouldnâ€™t exist if Cooley had a full complement of Friars at his service. The question is, when will that day happen?
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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