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Even without Dunn, Friars confident that they'll remain on point

December 16, 2013

Don't be surprised if the Providence offense is directed by sophomore Josh Fortune (4) at different points. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

PROVIDENCE – Now that the sobering news regarding Kris Dunn’s unavailability for the season’s duration has sunk in, the question becomes just how exactly Providence College plans to cope for the long haul.

If there’s a way to somehow cushion the loss of the only tried-and-true point guard at Ed Cooley’s disposal, it’s that the Friars have been down this road before. Spread over four games, Dunn logged 106 painful minutes. PC registered 405 minutes in the 10 games leading up to the exam break, the bulk of those minutes featuring Bryce Cotton as the on-floor maestro.

The sight of Cotton dribbling up the court and waving the conductor’s wand will once again be on full display Tuesday night when the Friars resume their season. All that stands between Providence and the dawn of the Big East slate is a trio of nonconference games with Yale first up; that will precede matchups with Maine on Saturday and nationally-ranked UMass on Dec. 28.

It’s not a stretch to say that the two weeks leading up to the Dec. 31 league opener against Seton Hall is an important period for PC. Cooley isn’t ready to cast a line toward the Pirates or any other Big East foe just yet, which is totally understandable. The head coach knows that duplicating what his shorthanded squad accomplished prior to its 12-day break will require some tinkering and rearranging.

With the exam period at PC concluding Tuesday, Cooley will be free to practice as long as he’d like.

The primary focus of this respite from the world of academia should be to unearth one or two possible ball-handling options so that not everything is heaped on Cotton’s slight shoulders. What happens in the event Cotton is saddled with foul trouble? Who could Cooley turn to in a pinch?

While the prospect of a foul-plagued Cotton may cause squeamish feelings on the part of Friar fans, the bottom line is that without Dunn, Providence is left with little choice but to work within the given parameters. If that means seeing Josh Fortune bringing the ball up from time-to-time, or having LaDontae Henton or Tyler Harris stationed at midcourt just in case teams apply backcourt pressure, so be it.

“This is the team we’ve got. We’re dealing with the present and dealing with the reality that, ‘Hey, this is the team we’ve got to coach,’” said Cooley. “Strategically, we want to make sure we coach our guys and put them in a position that if we do feel some pressure, we can relieve it with our personnel. We’ll get guys off the ball and it’ll be by committee.”

Added Henton, “I’m one of the top ballhandlers since a lot of guys went out. That’s a role that coach has put on me, and I’m willing to take part in it.”

“I feel that players naturally will be able to grow up and mature into new roles because that’s what is expected of them,” said Cotton about the prospect of having additional ballhandling support.

Given that Cotton and Fortune are the only listed guards, Cooley says that he isn’t surprised that PC’s opponents have by and large resisted the urge to press. A quick check reveals that the Friars are eighth in the 10-team Big East in assists per game (12.8) and fourth in turnovers (11.9).

“We feel if teams press us, they’re going to get hurt,” Cooley explained. “We have guys who have unbelievable offensive ability.”

Said Henton: “We know our strengths and weaknesses. Guys are prepared just in case in the next game they come out and trap us. We’ll be ready.”

Cooley mentioned that the decision to place Dunn on the season-ending injured list was made around Thanksgiving. The promising sophomore wound up suffering a right-shoulder relapse during the early stages of the championship game of the Paradise Jam against Maryland. Surgery, not rest, was deemed the only remedy.

“The players have realized it for a long time,” said Cooley in response to officially taking the guesswork out of Dunn’s status.

Echoed Cotton: “We knew Kris was going through a lot of pain. Obviously we were hoping for the best, and that he would be able to pull through, but once we found out the news, we were like, ‘How do we roll from here?’ This is the team we have and we’re going to be fine.”

“We’re not worried about who’s coming in for the next game or who’s not playing,” stated Henton. “This is our unit and we’ve got to work hard.”

***

“Status quo” remains the term PC officials are using when it comes to suspended freshmen Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin. The two first-year Friars continue to practice as they await word on whether they’ll be allowed to suit up this season.

“Hopefully soon. We’re going through the process with them right now,” said Cooley about when he can expect a final resolution. “I think our players have handled it well. I think kids are resilient and I’m looking forward to trying to get them back on the floor.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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