PROVIDENCE — Saturday’s final non-conference game resembled the season opener against Rider with respect to player rotation and Ed Cooley’s willingness to cast a wide net.
It’s one thing to tap every scholarship player on the shoulder when the team on the opposite bench resides in the lower quadrants of the KenPom and NET rankings.
The question of whether Providence College fans can expect to see their favorite basketball team roll nine, maybe even 10-deep, against UConn, Creighton and the rest of the Big East was posed to Cooley after PC blasted Albany, 93-55.
“Possibly,” Cooley said. “There are going to be days when some of our guys aren’t going to have it. They may not be feeling well or shooting well or playing well. At least we saw some of the guys get out there and do it.”
Freshman guard Jayden Pierre didn’t need a big game in the assist department to solidify his status as a key member of PC’s rotation. What he did on Saturday — 11 assists, zero turnovers — was cement his status as an important cog this season and beyond.
“Everyone else on the roster has either played in a big-time game or been in a college practice. That’s why Jayden gets so many reps in practice and why we’re constantly in his ear,” Cooley said.
Added Pierre, “I’m a pretty unselfish person and showed that a little bit [on Saturday]. My guys were able to hit shots and I just wanted to keep getting them the ball.”
As silk as Pierre’s passing ability was against an Albany squad that shot 28% for the contest, Cooley couldn’t stop talking about the youngster’s smile during his postgame address.
“He showed some flashes of excellence,” Cooley said. “He’s playing behind a fifth-year guy [in Jared Bynum] and learning every single day. He has passion, energy, and enthusiasm. He also has a million-dollar smile. God bless his parents for those teeth. Great smile.”
The Friars placed six players in double figures with Ed Croswell’s 18 points setting the pace. Alyn Breed carried PC in the first half when he scored all 10 of his points.
“He’s been as consistent as any player we’ve had all year,” Cooley said. “It’s a credit to him … staying with the process. He’s been patient and he’ll be rewarded because of that.”
It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops to the benefit of an announced crowd of 8,229. Once again, PC suffered some slippage when defending the 3-pointer. Albany’s first two shots of the game came from beyond the arc with the Great Danes canning triples on back-to-back possessions during the opening stages of the second half.
With 13:21 remaining and the Friars up 20, Cooley went with a massive substitution — yanking the five players who were on the floor. It’s not the first time that Cooley has inserted five players in one fell swoop, yet it was clear that he was displeased with what he saw despite Providence being up by a comfortable margin.
“You try and lean on your veterans, but if they aren’t doing the job or not performing, we’ll play the guys who deserve to play,” Cooley said.
In moments of clear frustration, which is the case when you pull five guys off the floor, Cooley says he’s reminded by his assistants to stay positive. In so many words, he said that maintaining an upbeat nature can be difficult when you’re in the cradle of intense competition.
“I’m an energetic coach. I’ll say hello to you before and after the game. The game is 40 minutes of me versus you, and I want to win every single time. It’s nothing personal,” Cooley said. “If you’re competing for 40 minutes at our level, you have no time to be a good dude.
“I hate losing. When we lose, I feel like someone broke into my house."
With 11 games in the books and the bulk of them coming against mediocre competition, the Friars now chart a course that will include the defense of last year’s Big East regular-season championship. The first of 20 league tilts awaits Saturday at Seton Hall.
“I think our [internal] audit would be good, not great,” Cooley said, “but we want to be good to get to great. If we’re not ready [for the start of Big East play] then we’re in trouble.”