Coming into Tuesday night's game in Indianapolis, the Providence Friars had four losses on the season with three of the four coming on the road. Following a defeat at Marquette in their previous game at the start of their two-game road trip, the Friars were looking to try to rebound from that loss when they rolled into Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on the Butler Bulldogs.
The first 20 minutes didn't quite go as planned with the Bulldogs were able to overcome an early five point deficit and take control off the game, including dominating the bigger Friars on the offensive glass. Ed Cooley was not pleased with his team's effort that led to a halftime deficit of 36-29.
The second half began with a lineup that left Friar fans scratching their heads. Cooley clearly was trying to send a message by sitting down 3 starters in Jalen Lindsey, Ben Bentil and Carson Desrosiers. In their place was Junior Lomomba, Ted Bancroft and Paschal Chukwu.
The initial thought was that Cooley was using this as a wake-up call to his regular starters but then a funny thing happened; Cooley left that group in. And left that group in. And left that group in. The first sub of the entire second half for Providence didn't come until the the 8:19 mark when Tyler Harris came in for Lomomba who had picked up his 4th foul at the 12:21 mark.
This gritty group was managing to chip away at the Butler lead and the game was back and forth for most of the second half with no team getting out to a lead larger than 3 points until Providence went up by 5 with 20 seconds left in the game on 2 Kris Dunn free throws.
After the game Cooley said he wasn't happy with his team's effort in the first half and told his coaches at halftime that he wanted the five toughest guys to start and play the second half. Those three benched starters received zero minutes in the entire second half but Cooley's gamble paid off as Kris Dunn exploded for 20 points in that second frame to finish the game with a career high 25 points. Dunn and LaDontae Henton scored 31 of Providence's 37 second half points and the 7-foot-2 freshman Chukwu came up large on the glass to finish with nine rebounds, all in the second half. Chukwu also iced the game with two free throws with eight seconds left to put the Friars up for good, 66-62. Those free throws were the result of an offensive rebound.
The Friars move to 2-1 in Big East play and get their first road win of the season on their fourth try. Providence will return home to take on the Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday.
Let's now jump into the positives and negatives from this game.
+ Ed Cooley's makeshift "toughness" lineup was able to grind out a road win with only six points from players other than Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton in the entire second half. Cooley pushed the right buttons and the players he tapped to play in the second half responded to his call for toughness and grit after he believed his first unit was getting outworked in the first half.
+ Kris Dunn had a career high 25 points and took control of the offense in the second half of this game. With the only two legitimate threats to score being Dunn and Henton in the second half it was Dunn who did what had to be done to score points himself and create scoring chances for Henton. Dunn also played good defense without fouling and made clutch free throws down the stretch which are things that must be done to win on the road.
+ Paschal Chukwu had a bit of a coming out party in this game's second half. Chukwu's 2nd half line looked like this: 20 minutes, four points, nine rebounds (five offensive) and two blocks. That would be a pretty good stat line for a freshman 7-footer for an entire game and Chukwu managed that in one half while playing every second of the half. Chukwu's effort on the glass was the most impressive part of his performance because he cut the number of offensive rebounds allowed from 10 to 5 from the first half to the second half and didn't allow Butler those extra possessions and second chance points. This performance is likely to lead to an expanded role for Chukwu in conference play as he was only averaging a little over 8 minutes/game coming into this impressive performance. "Paschal is growing by the second...I haven't played him enough," Cooley said after the game. Cooley continued, "in the second half, he changed the game."
- The biggest negative has to be that Ed Cooley was so disappointed in three of his starters that he benched them for an entire half. Saturday's game against Georgetown at home will be gut-check time for Lindsey, Bentil and Desrosiers. Cooley has indicated he will go back to starting the regular five but said "some guys will be on a shorter leash."
- Kris Dunn had a great game. He also had seven turnovers. Turnovers have really been Dunn's bugaboo this season. Providence's lead guard is averaging 4.4 turnovers/game which is the worst number in the Big East. If Dunn is able to continue his solid play while limiting turnovers he has the potential to be a First Team All-Big East player but he has yet to show that consistency in taking care of the ball.
- Tyler Harris did not play well again. Harris was removed from the starting lineup after Providence's December 13 win against the Stony Brook Seawolves and after having two solid games as the team's 6th man to finish non-conference play Harris has not maintained that same success in the Friars' three Big East games. Harris has scored just 17 points in those three games to go along with seven turnovers while shooting 36.8 percent (7-19 FG) from the field. Harris played two minutes off the bench in the second half of the Butler game and had 2 turnovers and a foul before coming out for good. Providence needs another player to score some points besides LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn. It's been a rare game when both Henton and Dunn have been on at the same time so there needs to be a secondary scoring option for those games and Harris' experience and ability on the offensive end make him the most likely Friar to fill that role. We'll see if he can figure it out.
What's on tap
The Georgetown Hoyas will come to the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Saturday for a Noon tip on Fox Sports 1. The Hoyas are also 2-1 on the season and will present a stiff challenge for the Friars who will be looking to defend their home court. Providence will honor their 1994 Big East Tournament Championship team during halftime of this game. The Friars beat the Hoyas in that 1994 Big East Tournament Championship game.