PROVIDENCE — Dating back several seasons, the very idea of placing Providence College and “defense” in the same sentence resulted in snickering along with several knee slaps.
In 2012, Ed Cooley’s PC Friars are getting after it in such ferocious fashion that the opposition is having a hard time getting off the canvas. More punishment was meted out Tuesday as Providence stomped on Holy Cross, 61-42, before a rather subdued crowd, which was announced at 4,596.
Now winners of three straight, the Friars held the Crusaders to just 33-percent shooting while almost exclusively employing a 2-3 zone. This marks the sixth time in seven games that Providence has held an opponent to less than 40 percent from the field.
“It’s actually the opposite,” replied Cooley when asked, given his limited body count, if it’s easier to coach the Friars from a defensive standpoint than an offensive one. “Psychologically guys want energy on offense and I want to rest on offense and play as hard as we can on defense.
“Our zone has been doing a real good job. We’ve worked on it a little bit, but our guys have picked up some of the nuisances that we’ve put in,” Cooley added. “I think our length … having a taller guards [such as Josh Fortune and Ted Bancroft, two Friars listed at 6-foot-5] helps to create a ton of deflections, which makes a big difference.”
Holy Cross (4-3) entered this New England-themed matchup shooting 35 percent as a unit. The Crusaders left the Dunkin’ Donuts Center with a 1-of-20 showing from beyond the arc.
“They were definitely active in the zone, but we didn’t make any shots,” said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown.
From an offensive standpoint, what jumps off the stat sheet is the monster performance Bryce Cotton put forth. The junior netted a game-best 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including 5-of-12 from downtown.
“Right now he’s getting to the point where he’s telling me what he wants to do. That’s when you know that somebody is improving,” Cooley stated.
After a rather quiet 10-point showing in the first half, which ended with the Friars (5-2) protecting a 30-19 lead, Cotton caught fire in the second half. He sandwiched a trey around two layups before later adding a four-point play, a sequence that allowed the home team to surge ahead, 48-27, with just over 12 minutes remaining.
For someone who has been a marked man, Cotton has been able to keep his title – that of a long-range marksman.
“The reason I like coming off ball screens is that when I’m getting a lot of attention, it’s going to open up opportunities for a lot of my teammates,” said Cotton.
Added Cooley, “I don’t know if there’s a more improved player in college basketball from the day we walked in here to today, and continuing to get better by the second. What Bryce is doing is unbelievable, and he’s still learning.”
Sophomore LaDontae Henton played the role of Robin to Cotton’s Batman exactly, scoring 19 points while pulling down 10 rebounds. Entering Tuesday, Henton was scoring at a 16.2 clip, though shooting just 41 percent.
“The game is going to me, which is what coach keeps telling me,” said Henton.
RIM RATTLERS: Former PC star MarShon Brooks stopped by The Dunk Tuesday night. Brooks and his Brooklyn Nets teammates will face the Celtics Wednesday night in Boston. … The Friars and Crusaders have been squaring off as far back as December 14, 1921. With Tuesday’s win, PC is now 42-28 all time against Holy Cross. … Just two Big East teams (Cincinnati, Syracuse) remain undefeated. … The 42 points the Friars permitted is the lowest total since Feb. 26, 2000 when Boston College topped PC, 45-40.