PROVIDENCE — Where has this PC Friar team been?
With the start of Big East play right around the corner and Christmas only a few days away, the Friars gave the fanbase an early stocking stuffer that was packed with all sorts of goodies – the kind that have been largely MIA during this largely forgettable nonconference slate.
With contributions abound from the eight-player rotation that coach Ed Cooley utilized on Saturday, Providence finally put all the pieces together en route to flattening Texas, 70-48, before 9,876 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
The Friars took their first double-digit lead at the 10-minute mark of the first half, surged to a 42-38 lead at halftime, and never allowed the Longhorns to close any closer than 12 points at any point during the second half.
For a team that’s had to live with the stain of a slew of forgettable losses and was coming off a 32-point thumping that was administered by a school hailing from another Power Five conference (Florida), Saturday’s outing came as a complete surprise. Preseason hope had faded into the sunset based off the number of times the Friars had badly stubbed their toe with losses to Long Beach State, College of Charleston, and a Northwestern outfit that stands 5-5.
How was PC going to possibly survive against the likes of Villanova, which beat No. 1 Kansas on Saturday, along with the rest of the conference? After brushing the Longhorns aside with relative ease, maybe it won’t be a grim Big East season after all.
“I thought we had a great amount of urgency. That was a win we definitely needed,” said Cooley. “The early part of the season, we haven’t been the team we wanted to be. You’ve got to make sure you stay with the process and continue to talk about what we can be versus what we weren’t. You need to have a positive approach when you’re struggling and give your men incredible amounts of security and confidence that we are a good club.”
A Friar offense that’s been running on fumes for much of December received a nice jolt in the first half from Luwane Pipkins, who has quickly become the player who fits the description of “as he goes, so goes the team.” Pipkins swished four 3-pointers – two that came early in the shot clock while a third resulted in a rare four-point try – to notch all 13 of his points before halftime.
Pipkins did produce four turnovers, yet he also handed out four assists and was a presence on the glass with six rebounds. His play personified the level of desperation that Texas head coach Shaka Smart believed the Friars brought with them to the court on Saturday.
“Their backs were against the wall. You could see that,” said Smart. “They had an edge to them.”
Alpha Diallo notched his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Nate Watson added 10 points and seven points. He and senior Kalif Young (six points, 10 rebounds) were two of the main reasons why the Friars won the rebounding battle going away (52-39) and produced 17 second-chance points off 16 offensive rebounds.
“We’ve got to do our jobs. For me, it’s rebounding, hustling, and outworking other guys,” said Young. “We weren’t going to let them bring it to us.”
Defensively, PC answered the bell by holding Texas to 32 percent shooting and 14 percent from three. The Friars surged out to a 15-5 lead, closed the first half by hitting their final four shots, and actually extended their halftime edge to 18 points at the first media timeout in the second half.
“I thought we did all three phases today – start the game with some rhythm and continuity, finish the first half well, and get off to a good start in the second half,” said Cooley. “We needed to win for a lot of reasons. I’m just happy with the attention to detail that our players showed.”
For a refreshing change of pace, the Friars have something of substance to build off in preparing for the next game – the first of 18 against Big East foes.
“We had a meeting with each other and discussed what we needed to do in order to get the job done. After that, you could tell how crisp we were in practice. The focus went to another level,” said Emmitt Holt, who started and contributed six points, nine rebounds, and two steals. “It’s definitely a confidence booster, but conference play, that’s a whole other monster. We’ve got to be focused and ready to play.”
RIM RATTLERS: The Friar rotation was cut even thinner as freshman Greg Gantt was held out of Saturday’s game with a foot injury. Gantt had started the previous two games. He joins Jimmy Nichols and Kris Monroe as Friars who are currently dealing with injuries. … What shouldn’t be forgotten is the spark that Maliek White provided off the bench. His layup in traffic helped give PC a 21-11 lead, then the senior hit a three-pointer after Texas closed to within 14 points in the second half. White also added two free throws to finish with seven points. “He played in a lot of games and we expect a lot from them,” said Cooley … Saturday’s game was part of the was part of the newly-created Big East/Big 12 Battle. The win is the second in as many years for the Friars, who defeated Texas 71-65 last December. All-time, PC holds a 4-3 record against the Longhorns. … The Friars won’t be back in action until New Year’s Eve when Georgetown comes to The Dunk.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03