PROVIDENCE – So much for “Operation: Return to MSG.”
The Arkansas Razorbacks sure didn’t look like a team that took the Dunkin’ Donuts Center court minus their top scorer and rebounder. Instead of feeding the beast that was sophomore big man Daniel Gafford, the Razorbacks unleashed a jet-quick lineup that presented all sorts of problems for the Providence Friars.
In a season that was chock full of turbulence, the Friars bowed out of the National Invitational Tournament in meek fashion on Tuesday night, losing to Arkansas, 84-72, before a sparse crowd of 3,057 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. PC fell behind by 11 points with barely seven minutes gone by, trailed by the same amount at the break, and never closed to within single digits during the second half.
For the Friars, it was the final disappointing chapter in a season that featured seven home losses against 11 victories. It’s the most home defeats since the 2009-10 season.
“It was one of those days in a year where we just didn’t have it,” said a clearly dejected PC coach Ed Cooley during his final postgame address of a season that ended at 18-16. “It’s not a year I’m happy about. To me, it’s unacceptable. I have to do a much better job with our group.
“We have to look at our program and evaluate it from a standpoint of what we need going forward,” Cooley added. “When you’re in the business as long as I’ve been in it, you’re going to have years like this. Hopefully you just hope it doesn’t happen multiple times because otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Playing without Gafford, who on Monday announced that he would skip the NIT in favor of getting ready for this June’s NBA Draft, the Razorbacks came out and hit their first five 3-point shots. Their top two scorers on the night were bench players as Mason Jones had 18 points while Reggie Chaney netted a career-best 14 points and seven blocks.
Cooley tried everything to curb Arkansas but nothing seemed to work on a night that saw PC miss 20 of 23 3-pointers and shoot 38.7 percent for the game. Arkansas had no trouble when it came to finding the range, shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from three.
Maliek White continued his late-season renaissance with 19 points while Nate Watson added 15 points. Alpha Diallo netted a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) but was just 4-of-13 from the field.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03