PROVIDENCE — With one more game before an eight-day exam break, Ed Cooley is hoping for the best in Friday’s game against the Minutemen from the University of Massachusetts.
The game will be the third in seven days for the Providence Friars. After wins over Rhode Island and Boston College, Cooley just wants to see his team play well one more time before taking a well-deserved break.
“It’s a tough stretch, a busy stretch,” Cooley said. “We had to get these games in before our exam period began but it’s been busy. With a young team, it’s a challenge to get ready for these games.”
The Friars (7-2) continue to start three freshmen, along with two juniors, and Cooley is the type of coach who takes note of every mistake much more than the big plays. That’s the avenue to progress and Cooley says his team is progressing despite a long line of shortcomings.
“We’re getting better,” Cooley said, “and that’s all I can hang my hat on right now. That’s what we’re looking for but we have a long ways to go.”
After playing sloppily on both sides of the ball in a 69-59 win over Fairleigh Dickinson, the Friars' inconsistent play loomed large in wins over URI and BC. In a 59-50 win over the Rams, the Friars shot 36 percent from the field and struggled to their second-worst offensive efficiency game of the season. In a 100-95 overtime win over the Eagles, the Friars enjoyed their third-best offensive efficiency effort of the year.
The up-and-down nature of his team is not surprising, yet still frustrating, to the coach.
“The good news is I’m seeing a lot of positives and we’re taking positives out of wins,” Cooley said. “I think both against Rhode Island and BC we missed a ton of layups and free throws. Our efficiency can be a lot better if we make easy shots.”
The youthful nature of the team is showing more on the defensive end of the floor. That’s where players are often easily picked out of position, go under screens and don’t communicate nearly enough. Those issues are arising across the board, not just with freshman starters David Duke, A.J. Reeves and Jimmy Nichols.
“We’re still struggling with defensive concepts at times,” Cooley said, noting that giving up 95 points to any opponent is "unacceptable."
The Friars consider themselves fortunate to carry a 7-2 record into a third straight game against a longtime New England foe. Boston College was in great position to knock off PC Tuesday, clinging to a 82-76 lead with three minutes to play at Conte Forum. Cooley then called a play that freed Reeves for a 3-pointer and the freshman knocked down a 20-footer to slice the deficit to three.
Two Jordan Chatman free throws with 11 seconds left kept the Eagles up, 87-84, and promoted a time out. On the PC bench, the possibility of the Eagles fouling and preventing a potential game-tying 3-pointer was discussed. So was another play to free Reeves for a big shot.
On the BC bench, the decision was made to play stout defense and not foul.
“Those things are always hindsight, right?” said coach Jim Christian. “If he misses it, it's a great call. If he makes it, it's a bad call. I'll live with either one, but with 11.8 seconds to go we usually go small and switch out. If it was seven [seconds], we'd probably foul."
When Duke crossed the midcourt stripe and wasn’t fouled, Reeves ran off a Nate Watson screen, caught a nice pass and stroked a 22-footer that tied the game. Providence went on to make 9-of-14 free throws and (more importantly) limit BC to 1-of-6 shooting in the overtime to secure the win.
“It was a good win and I’ll take every positive I can get,” Cooley said. “Again, we’re getting better. That’s what you’re looking for as a coach this time of the season.”