Alright, so, that happened…
Last night’s game between the Friars and the Broncs was an interesting one, to say the least. A game that left many of the fans at the newly named “Amica Mutual Pavilion” scratching their heads at the end of what was a near-cataclysmic opening night showing.
This was a game that saw the Reigning Big East Regular Season Champions go down by as many as 15 points, to the pre-season-ranked third best team in the MAAC conference, to then open the second half on a 21-6 run to regain the lead... and then win by only a single point.
For many fans (myself included), last night’s game might be very hard to digest, especially on the heels of Providence’s Sweet Sixteen appearance. But there are some positives to take away from this, and I definitely have a unique spin on what to think here, so let’s get into it.
Last night’s game saw the Friars claim victory from the jaws of defeat – in devastating fashion. After going down by as many as 15 points in the first half, the Friars were able to trim the deficit to 10 just before halftime.
At the start of the second half, it was all Friars. Ed Cooley’s young squad produced a healthy 21-6 run over the first ten and a half minutes of the second half to take a 51-46 lead over the Rider Broncs, who had controlled the lead, and the game, for most of the first half.
And what sparked this run? Defense.
In the post-game press conference, Cooley credited his team’s defense for the win. Cooley also gave a nod to his coaching staff for the adjustments that they made as well.
Perhaps the most important adjustment made last night was the switching of Devin Carter defensively, to Rider’s Dwight Murray Jr. (#55). In the first half, Murray Jr. led all Rider scorers with 10 points and was getting his shot with ease. Once the second half started, he was held to just 3 points through the first fifteen minutes.
Jared Bynum was originally tasked with the defensive assignment of Murray Jr., but was then swapped out for the larger Carter. Knowing Carter to be the better defensive player, the Providence coaching staff made the adjustment, and the result was a subdued Murray Jr. throughout a majority of the second half – which provided the perfect window of opportunity for Providence to take back control of the game.
Murray Jr. finished the night leading all Rider scorers with 18 points, adding in 6 rebounds and 4 assists, while going 4-for-5 from three-point land. Murray Jr. was joined in double figures by Allen Powell (15 points, 3 assists, 5-9 FG), and Mervin James (12 points, 5 rebounds, 6-11 FG).
For the game, Rider shot 41.1% from the field (24-58), 64.3% from three (9-14) and 80% from the charity stripe (8-10).
On the other end of the court, the Friars were led by newcomer Bryce Hopkins, who led all scorers with 18 points and 6 rebounds, in thirty-six minutes played. Ed Croswell also added 13 points and 10 rebounds, while going 5-for-7 from the field (71%). Noah Locke chipped in with 10 points.
However, the most noteworthy Friar performance, in my opinion, came from La Salle Transfer, Clifton Moore. Moore provided a spark on defense that helped surge the Friars to victory, and his performance was highlighted by a monstrous three that gave the Friars the lead in the second half.
Moore finished the night with 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 blocks in only nineteen minutes of playing time. In the post-game press conference, Cooley complimented Moore on his composure during the game, citing it as “impressive.”
As a team, the Friars shot 36% from the field (18-50), 21.2% from three (4-19) and as for the free throws… if you want to look up those numbers, be my guest, but I’d rather not put it into writing (let’s just say if the team made all of their free throws, they would have healthily covered the 13-point spread).
There are definitely a number of things to take away from last night’s game, but I think the one that stands out above all others is that this is a very young Friars team. Inexperienced? Maybe not – at least not with respect to playing time and roles at other schools. But very inexperienced with respect to playing together for the first time in the black and white at Providence.
For many parts of last night’s game, the team looked to be out of sync offensively, dropping passes, turning the ball over, and missing shots close to the rim. This could be the result of first-game jitters, in front of an 89% filled AMP (Amica Mutual Pavilion), OR it could just be a lack of cohesion early on in the season. Regardless, it was very tough to watch.
However, my take on things - while probably very unpopular in the eyes of the common fan - is that it is better for the team to have an opening night performance like last night’s, than it is to have an opening night performance where you beat the doors off your opponent.
Hear me out – last night’s game was very difficult to enjoy (and was not great for my heart rate for that matter), but exposed some of this team’s flaws. Early on in the season, knowing what your flaws are is a good thing. A very good thing actually. If I’m Ed Cooley, I would much rather know, after game one, what needs to be fixed as a team, rather than finding those things out one month in. Knowing your flaws early on in the season allows for appropriate adjustments to be made, with time to implement them and grow from them before conference play starts. An opening night game where a team blows out its opponent by 20+ points shows nothing, other than that mid-major schools are easy to take advantage of in early November.
And also, for what it’s worth, Rider is a good team. A team that should have serious NCAA Tournament aspirations pending a successful run during the MAAC Tournament this season.
Keep in mind too, that Providence's star returnee, Jared Bynum, only went 1-for-9 from the floor with 5 points. It is highly unlikely that he'll have another game like this one.
With all of that said… This Friars team needs to start remedying its flaws quickly, and is going to have to grow up pretty fast. Because one week from this Saturday, Cooley and co. will head down to Mohegan Sun, where they’ll face the likes of Miami on the 19th, and either Maryland or St. Louis on the 20th.
And if the same team that showed up last night, shows up to Mohegan Sun, the Friars could be headed back home from their first meeting with power conference teams bruised, beaten, and with a lot of work left to be done.
Up next, the Friars will play host to the Northeastern Huskies. The Huskies come into this matchup following a 72-63 loss on the road to Boston University. The name to lookout for on this Northeastern squad is Jahmyl Telfort, who dropped 26 points, pulled down 9 boards, and shot 50% from the field in the team’s loss.
Northeastern currently ranks 247th on KenPom, 182 spots lower than the Friars who sit at 65. The odds for this game are still unavailable (I’m writing this on Wednesday evening, so that is subject to change), but if they are anything like Tuesday night’s odds, I’d play more on the cautious side when betting Providence.
Nevertheless, you can catch that game at 8:00PM on FS2 this Saturday, 11/12. Be sure to keep up with House Enterprise, Road 2 the Garden and (of course) The Flex podcast for all Friars and Big East coverage this season.
And, as always...