PROVIDENCE — Deep down, Ed Cooley knows that it’s probably not the best time to take his Providence Friars on a two-games-in-three-days junket in Puerto Rico.
Still, this is no time to convey weakness, which the second-year PC head coach clearly understands.
As Cooley emphatically stated following PC’s surprisingly easy 81-49 throttling of Bryant on Monday night, the show must go on – even if it’s without the services of senior point guard Vincent Council (hamstring).
“Losing a Vincent Council is like losing a steering wheel, but we have to deal with the consequences when there aren’t enough bodies out there,” stated Cooley. “I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for the Friars.”
For however long Council is sidelined and until reinforcements arrive in transfer Sidiki Johnson and injured freshman Kris Dunn, the Friars are a team that can’t afford to rely exclusively on two players, namely junior Bryce Cotton and sophomore LaDontae Henton. Players like junior Kadeem Batts need to make the career-tying 27-point output he produced Monday more of a frequent occurrence. Playing 32 minutes, Batts also snatched nine rebounds.
“With this being my third year, I definitely feel a lot of responsibility to step up,” said Batts.
Drawing his first nod at the point guard spot, Cotton mixed and matched on his way to flirting with a triple double (24 points, 11 rebounds, six assists). Henton poured in 16 points while forward Alex Francis paced the Bulldogs with 13 points and eight rebounds.
The Friars (2-0) took a major bite out of the Bulldogs early, jumping out to a 19-7 advantage and not once looking back. PC’s biggest lead in the opening half was 28 points before heading into halftime up, 41-27.
PC rarely missed in the frame and found success driving the lane, shooting 63 percent heading into intermission. Conversely, the Bulldogs were downright chilly, hitting at a 32-percent clip in the opening half en route to shooting 31 percent for the game.
“We came out with a purpose and I thought we were very focused,” said Cooley, whose Friars won the battle of the boards, 42-28.
Before the night began, you probably would have said that PC’s Henton and Bryant’s Francis were the game’s top two forwards. Yet at a time when Cooley is squeezing every possible ounce out of his remaining nucleus, Batts served notice that his junior season figures to be a lot different than his output as a sophomore.
The 6-foot-9 Batts was hands down the top performer in opening 20 minutes, mixing it up down low while displaying an outside touch. Such a mixture made him next to an impossible cover for the Bulldogs, who watched helplessly as Batts missed just one of 11 first-half attempts to finish with 23 points.
Said Bryant head coach O’Shea about Batts’ monster performance: “He was in a zone tonight. I give him all the credit in the world; he was tremendous.”
After a dismal 0-for-10 showing from deep in the first half, the Bulldogs (0-2) started to find the range somewhat, hitting back-to-back threes to cut PC’s lead to 48-29 with 14:22 left. Yet on a night where O’Shea’s Bryant club eased into the fray, the head coach walked out of The Dunk admiring how the Friars refused to let their shorthanded ways serve as a major deterrent.
“They were athletic and had a ton of energy … I thought they played great,” was the tip of the cap extended by O’Shea.
Asked how hard it was for him to sit on the bench in a dress suit, Council answered, “I was tough, but at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s about my team and they need my support.”
As far as how long the Friars will be without their top player, Cooley says that it’s all based on how much pain Council is willing to tolerate. Council says he can walk without pain and that the training staff is icing down the tender spot before more serious treatment can take place.
“We can’t rush him back too fast,” cautioned Cooley. “Hamstrings are a very delicate thing, but we have to do what’s in the best interest of Vince and not for our program.”
Cooley said that Council will travel with the team to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which gets underway Thursday night against UMass. The six scholarship players and one walk-on (junior Ted Bancroft) will makeup the unit Cooley brings south, as the head coach doesn’t plan to add any more bodies between now and when the Friars get on the plane.
RIM RATTLERS: The notion of playing every single minute of every single game – which Cotton has done through PC’s first two games – isn’t cause for concern for Cooley. Why? Cotton was on the floor an average of 39.4 minutes a season ago while Henton logged exactly 38 minutes per outing. Said Cooley: “We’re in very good shape and last year was great practice for what we’re about to go through. I love our conditioning right now and it’s only going to get better.” … On a Friar team were roles are as defined as you’re going to see on a basketball team, Cooley elected to start Lee Goldsbrough against the Bulldogs with Brice Kofane in the role as sixth man. … Cotton missed two free throws Monday, giving the junior five misfires in two games. In 2011-12 spanning 32 games, Cotton ended up missing 11 shots from the charity stripe. … Former PC point guard God Shammgod is serving as an undergrad assistant coach on Cooley’s staff. His seating position on PC’s bench is located on the opposite end of where the assistants are perched. … Providence president Rev. Brian Shanley and athletic director Bob Driscoll are representing the college at this week’s Big East meetings, which are taking place in Chicago. … Sitting behind Bryant’s bench was former URI and Boston College head coach Al Skinner.