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No longer bound by drama, Friars trending upward

January 20, 2014

Providence senior Ted Bancroft, right, attributes the team’s three-game winning streak to a players-only meeting that took place after the Friars lost to Villanova by 30 points earlier this month. PC looks to make it four straight Big East wins tonight against Butler. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

PROVIDENCE – There are two schools of thought as to why Ted Bancroft and the Friars have gone on to string three Big East wins together following an 0-2 start.

Representing the Providence program at Monday’s college basketball brunch, held at Warwick's Radisson Hotel, Bancroft mentioned that a players-only meeting was staged in the aftermath of a 30-point blowout loss at Villanova earlier this month. At the time, the Friars appeared in a free fall after losing back-to-back overtime contests to UMass and Seton Hall before getting drubbed by the Wildcats.

The tone of the meeting, Bancroft noted, centered on patching up a wounded psyche with a strong dose of reassurance. No finger pointing nor, to borrow from Frank Costanza from Seinfeld sit-com fame, an airing of grievances took place.

What was surprising to learn was that Bryce Cotton handled the bulk of the speaking responsibilities, though the senior Bancroft noted that fellow Friar captain Kadeem Batts also chimed in with a thought or two.

For anyone who has even been in Cotton’s company, you know he’s a polite young man who always seems to keep both feet on the ground. The Big East’s reigning conference Player of the Week comes across as a quiet sort, so hearing that he served as the keynote speaker during an important huddle-up session with his teammates was, putting it mildly, cause for raised eyebrows.

“He’s developed unbelievably as a leader. From freshman year when he barely said a word to now saying ‘Come on guys, we know we can do this,’ he’s improved ten-fold, said Bancroft of Cotton. “We talked about that we knew we were a good team. Everyone just needs to believe. After two heartbreaking losses, you stop believing for a minute. Then Villanova smacks you and you’re down in the dumps.

“We talked and said we were one game away from making the NCAA Tournament last year. We have a better team, so we just have to believe,” continued Bancroft, who spent his formative years in Rumford before playing high school hoops at Bishop Stang in Dartmouth.

“People starting buying in and stopped playing individually, and more as a team. Since then we’ve been rolling.”

When it was suggested that another reason why PC on Tuesday night will take the court at The Dunk in search of its fourth straight win against league newcomer Butler was that all the off-court drama has at long last dissipated, Bancroft nodded in agreement.

From learning that point guard Kris Dunn would not be back this season due to a shoulder injury, to waiting for what seemed like an excruciatingly long time about the fates of Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, to the fallout of the season-long suspended sentence handed down to the two freshmen in which one of them (Austin) left school and has since landed at the University of Oregon, the Friars have certainly had to endure plenty of troubling news.

Given everything that was swirling around them, perhaps fans shouldn’t be surprised at the on-court lull that appeared to sink Bancroft and Providence. A resurrection didn’t seem practical, much less even fathomable after the Villanova disaster. To the Friars’ credit, they’ve escaped from the Big East’s basement to the point where they are presently one of four teams with a winning league record.

“Coach (Ed Cooley) always says that it’s tough to win on the court when you’re not winning off the court. After Brandon transferred, there was obviously some remorse in the locker room,” Bancroft expressed. “After a while, though, you just have to believe in what you have. Coach talks every day about ‘Let’s not talk about what we don’t have. Everyone wants to talk about what we’re missing. What we have is a great team with great chemistry.’

“We stopped worrying about everything else and focused on what we have,” Bancroft delved further.

In the aftermath of losing three key pieces for varying reasons, Cooley has stressed repeatedly about the players who he does have at his disposal to know their specific roles. Obviously, Cotton sets the tone with his playmaking abilities while Batts, LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris are equally important cogs, yet as was the case during Saturday’s 81-68 throttling of nationally ranked Creighton, the Friars benefited immensely from the contributions of Bancroft (19 turnover-free minutes), Carson Desrosiers (three blocks) and Lee Goldsbrough, whose toughness underneath resulted in Bluejays’ star Doug McDermott picking up his second foul with four minutes left in the first half.

“The way (Cooley) coaches, he tries to put everyone in what he calls their ‘honey holes,’ a position where they know they can succeed,” Bancroft explained. “We slowed the ball down against Creighton and shot over 50 percent for the first time in five games. Everyone knew the shots they were supposed to take.”

Typically, you don’t associate homestands with conference play. Tuesday will see the Friars play the second of three consecutive games on its home floor. After Butler, which features Portsmouth native Andrew Chrabascz, PC will welcome Xavier on Saturday.

To say that week marks a prime chance for Providence to take a substantial leap forward is a major understatement. The opportunity is there, and thanks to the storm clouds finally breaking up, it’s full speed ahead.

“We love playing at home. If the crowd is anything like it was against Creighton, that makes it even more exciting,” said Bancroft, a former walk-on turned scholarship recipient. “Just coming out of the tunnel and seeing all the energy in the building, to have the fans covering your back just makes it that much better.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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