PROVIDENCE – In the end, Bryce Cotton suited up for the Providence Friars. The real surprise came in the role he played Thursday night against intrastate rival Rhode Island.
The Big East’s leading scorer did not light up the scoreboard as often been the case this season, finishing with 11 points on just 3-of-9 shooting while logging 39 minutes. PC head coach Ed Cooley pulled Cotton with 1:18 remaining but soon reported back in after Kadeem Batts joined Brice Kofane in the “foul out” club. Cotton’s re-entry gave him another shot to reach double figures, which he did courtesy of a layup with five seconds remaining.
On a night where Cotton was clearly hindered by a sore right knee, one that required a brace, the junior was at his absolute best when it came to waving the conductor’s wand. He ended up dishing out a career-best seven assists, several of which came during a second-half stretch that saw PC pull away in an eventual 72-57 triumph against Rhody.
“Cotton dealt with a lot of pain today,” Cooley made perfectly clear. “He was basically playing on one leg so I really appreciate him persevering through a knee injury.”
He also seemed more than content in letting his teammates pick up the scoring slack. Sophomore LaDontae Henton torched the Rams for 21 points and 17 points while Batts registered a game-best 23 points. Even freshman Josh Fortune got into the act on his way to posting 17 points on 10-of-11 from the foul line.
Cotton’s ailment occurred last Saturday against Mississippi State as the do-everything guard limped off the court late in the first half. Had he sat out Thursday, it would have marked his second DNP of the season.
“He said ‘Coach, I’ll give whatever I can today. We’ve got to try and get us a win to get to the finish line,’” said Cooley, referencing that Thursday was PC’s last game before the exam break.
Cotton capped off the Friars’ 9-0 run early in the second half with a pass to Henton in the corner. Henton calmly buried the short jumper to pin Rhody in a 40-33 hole. A short time later, Cotton fed Batts down low, which resulted in a URI foul and a trip to the foul line for Batts.
Cotton’s giving mood continued when he saw Fortune filling the lane for an eventual one-handed dunk that gave Providence a 46-39 lead with less than nine minutes remaining. He didn’t completely abandon his scoring touch as Cotton drew a foul while attempting a wing jumper with exactly one second remaining on the shot clock. That led to two made free throws on a night the Friars didn’t need their top point producer to live up to his moniker.
“Whether he was going to play or not, coach prepared us to play hard and be mentally tough. That said, we were happy Bryce was able to play,” said Henton. “We know he can score the basketball, but he just that he wanted to get everyone else involved and he did a great job.”