Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friars throttle Saint Louis to take 2K Classic championship

Providence, who won Big East championship at Madison Square Garden in 2014, leaves Big Apple with 2K Classic trophy after thrashing Saint Louis for crown. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- Providence, off a solid semifinal victory over Washington, faced a Saint Louis team thriving on a second upset opportunity following their defeat of Virginia Tech 24 hours prior. The Billikens were under the bright lights, but in the end, it was Providence getting rave reviews, by virtue of their decisive 90-63 victory.

Saint Louis’ length was a factor in employment of the 1-3-1 zone very early, as the Billikens battled on even terms. Providence (3-1) stepped up, taking an 18-13 lead, forcing Saint Louis coach Travis Ford to go man-to-man. Shortly after getting that lead, Ed Cooley made his own defensive adjustment, going from man to zone. Besides the sideline chess match, what transpired on the floor altered the course of the game.

“They just got physical,” Ford bluntly stated of the Friars. “We are a physical team and like to play that way, but our guys just didn’t respond. We did not play like who we are.”

Providence got inside, hit from the perimeter and made defensive stops while taking a 41-21 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Friars came out following the break with no hint that the championship already had their name engraved, opening the first four minutes of the final stanza with an 11-3 run, extending their lead to 28 points.

“We came out determined to execute our offense and continue to play good defense,” said point guard Kyron Cartwright, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player.  

In the final analysis this was not about glitz, glamour or showtime. With workmanlike effort, Providence put together a solid effort, outworking Saint Louis (3-1) on both ends of the floor.

“They were physical.” Ford said. “We just did not respond.”

Cooley, by his own admission, is not a numbers or analytics coach. “The only numbers important to me,” he once said, “are those numbers on the scoreboard when the clock reads 0:00.” He has since lightened a bit, urging his staff to chart plus-minus and even admitting to studying the results, deciding to go with veterans in the second half against Washington based on those numbers.

“Sometimes you come out and shoot 1-for-10,” he said. “Tonight, it seemed almost everything we put up went in.” Providence shot 62 percent from the field, including a blistering 9-for-10 in three-point field goals.

“Give them credit,” Ford said of the Friars. “They shot it so well and played at an amazingly high level.”

Providence had four in double figures and was led by Rodney Bullock with 15 points. That alone is significant, as Cooley is utilizing a number of players early. It appears to be working, as the Friars owned a 46-19 edge in bench points.

“Our bench took it up another level,” he said. “That is significant, as it builds chemistry and trust. We have a group where every player is confident when they step on the floor.”

The Big East Tournament, which will be Providence’s next visit to the Garden, is less than four months down the road. Regardless, Cooley spoke of how winning the tournament is a good prep for March Madness. Beyond, that he was pleased with the adjustment of his team and how they responded.

“We had a quick turnaround after yesterday,” he said. “Today, we had film, scouting reports and a walkthrough, roughly four hours of preparation with a game to play tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of our group, especially since we beat a Saint Louis team that will only get better and is hard to guard.”

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