PROVIDENCE — ‘Tis the season for Big East men's basketball teams like Providence College to bid adieu to nonconference opponents while simultaneously ushering in a group of familiar foes.
Before the changing of the scheduling guard could be officially flipped to UConn, Georgetown and Seton Hall — the first three league opponents on deck for PC — there was one remaining non-Big East test to pass. You didn’t think this veteran group with a major chip on its collective shoulders would let its guard down against Central Connecticut, did you?
Well, you would be partially correct about PC's 68-53 victory.
For 27 minutes at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Saturday afternoon, the Friars could do no wrong. The Blue Devils from the Northeast Conference had been reduced to mincemeat … or chopped liver, if you prefer. It was a sweet symphony of defensive stops and offensive execution as PC built a commanding 61-33 lead.
Then, all of a sudden, the shots stopped falling and the attention to detail veered off to the side of the road. Providence limped badly to the finish line, scoring just seven points over the final 14 minutes. Still, the end result was a win, PC’s 10th in 11 tries before the dawn of Big East play.
So Ed Cooley, are you a glass-is-half-full kind of guy or is your glass half-empty after the Providence win over CCSU?
“First of all, I’m happy we won the game,” Cooley said. “It was probably one of the most inconsistent 15 minutes we’ve had all season. It wasn’t a good showing. It’s not the way you want to play going into a gauntlet of a Big East schedule. The perspective on that is that you take the win and move on.
“At the end of the day, sometimes you don’t play your best and win a game. Sometimes you can play your best and lose a game. That to me is the maturity piece as the coach and a maturity piece as a team that we’ve got to get better. Other than that, things happen and you move on. I think if you overthink certain things, you go down a negative hole. We won the game. Keep it moving.”
As much as the goal is to keep the foot firmly on the gas pedal, it’s also human nature to look up at the scoreboard, see that Central Connecticut is not even close to being within shouting distance, and start to think about dates with the Huskies and Hoyas. After all, the game is in the bag, correct?
Ultimately, the Friars eased up just long enough for Cooley to grab their attention between now and next Saturday’s league opener at UConn. One thing that the coach figures to stress is that only one player on the roster grabbed an offensive rebound. Noah Horchler collected four and that was it.
“It’s about focus and hunger and mentality,” Cooley said. “Is it hard to coach with a big lead? Sometimes, but I didn’t expect that from a group that had seven seniors on the roster. That part was disappointing. They went from a killer mindset to a resting mindset.”
PC went from shooting 50% in the first half down to 35% over the final 20 minutes. For the game, the home team shot 6 of 26 from three.
“We had guys who were as open as I’m sitting here at the podium,” Cooley said. “If one or two of those go in, it’s a totally different story, but woulda, coulda, shoulda, they didn’t and here we are.”
Asked about the play of his team in the first half, Cooley opted to talk big picture in terms of his evolvement as a head coach.
“The old coach Cooley would be upset or down, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve got our 10th win,” he said.
Talking about his team’s nonconference body of work that includes wins over Wisconsin and Texas Tech while looking ahead to what’s expected to be an 18-game meatgrinder of league schedule, Cooley said, “How can you not be pleased [with 10-1]? The Big East has done a great job positioning itself as we get ready to go against one another.”
As for Saturday’s proceedings, A.J. Reeves dialed up 17 points to lead PC while Justin Minaya started and was perfect from the field (6 of 6, 2 of 2 from 3) on his way to 14 points. Horchler added 12 points.