PROVIDENCE -- Many teams choose to open their season against an easy opponent, or "cupcake". Providence and head coach Ed Cooley opted for more of a challenge for the Friars' season opener by scheduling the back-to-back America East Tournament Champions, the Albany Great Danes.
I'm not so sure Cooley was expecting this game to come down to the final minute, but he was happy to get the win.
Tyler Harris and LaDontae Henton were the only Friars to score in double figures as Providence struggled shooting from the field in the first half converting on just 31.3 percent of their 32 attempts. Harris would finish with a game-high 23 points while Henton scored 21 points and added 11 rebounds for his 27th career double-double.
Providence led most of the first half, but Albany would take their first lead of the game with 3:27 remaining in those first 20 minutes, and would end up taking a 27-26 edge into the locker room. Henton led all first half scorers with 11 of his 21 while Albany was paced by Peter Hooley with nine points.
Hooley would finish the game with 15.
Defensive miscues and poor shooting were the main factors in Providence not being able to pull away from the pesky Albany team. Cooley gave praise to Albany during his postgame press conference. "I thought Albany did a really good job. I thought their coaches did a good job of changing defenses and keeping us off balance. They dictated tempo."
The game was nip and tuck the entire way with 11 lead changes and five ties. The second half was back and forth with no team getting a lead larger than five points. Ultimately, a timely 3-pointer by Harris, and four consecutive converted free throws were the difference.
Free throw shooting was a story in this game as Providence, a team that led the nation in FT% last season, shot an alarming 12-24 from the line on the night.
Kris Dunn showed rust and didn't convert any of his five field goal attempts with his only two points being a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left in the game. He was active on the defensive end with a steal and a number of deflections and showed flashes on the offensive end getting into the lane at times, but not being able to finish.
Freshman Kyron Cartwright was in the starting lineup for the opener as he was last Saturday in the team's exhibition game against Division II Stonehill. Overall, I thought Cartwright played well and didn't play too fast. He only had two turnovers against five assists and he was the third leading scorer with eight points. He did show some vulnerability on the defensive end, where his counterpart Evan Singletary was able to get by him and into the lane with relative ease.
Singletary, a junior college transfer who started at point guard for Albany, led the Great Danes in scoring with 18 points in 38 minutes of action.
The other freshman played less than Cartwright's 34 minutes but each contributed something during their time on the floor. Paschal Chukwu only played four minutes in the first half but had a highlight-reel blocked shot resulting in the ball reaching at least 10 rows into the seats. Jalen Lindsey got 13 minutes, mostly in the first half, and was active on defense. Ben Bentil played 15 minutes and many of those were minutes in critical situations at the end of the game.Cooley had mentioned he was thinking about ending games with a frontcourt of Henton and Bentil, and that's what he did against Albany. The other newcomer, redshirt sophomore Junior Lomomba, only played eight minutes in the first half and showed good on-ball defense in addition to a nifty drive and layup at the buzzer of the first half.
The ability to actually have a bench and be able to substitute for situations, matchups, or to yank a guy who isn't playing well is a luxury Ed Cooley hasn't had to date at Providence. He said after the game that he doesn't want to have to play his veterans 35+ minutes regularly, so he needs the freshman to develop during nonconference play to be ready for the Big East season.
Providence does not have much time between games during this opening week of the season as they will welcome Binghamton to the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Monday night, and then play Navy on Thursday, before traveling to Mohegan Sun to play Florida State on Saturday, and Notre Dame on Sunday.
Cooley's overall message after the game was that he was just happy to get the win.
"A coach can be upset about a lot of things [from this game] but I'm happy that we won."
- Freshman Tyree Chambers sat out this game with a leg injury. He is expected to be back soon.
- The win today was Ed Cooley's 150th career win as a head coach. This was win 58 as the Providence coach. His overall record is now 150-113 and his record at Providence is 58-44.
- This is the first time since 2012 that a true freshman has started a season opening game for the Providence Friars. Josh Fortune was the player in 2012. LaDontae Henton also started the season opener his freshman year in 2011.