Yellow caution flags fly over Friartown today in the wake of Brown’s stunning 77-67 victory over Providence College Monday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The loss was the third in a row for the Friars after a 6-0 start to the season and left them fewer than 48 hours to figure out what’s wrong before they return to The Dunk Wednesday night or their annual battle with the University of Rhode Island.
After victories over Florida State and Notre Dame helped propel PC to a No. 25 ranking, the Friars lost to No. 1 Kentucky, at Boston College last Friday and at home to Brown. There was no shame in losing to the top-ranked Wildcats, 58-38, at Lexington -- John Calipari has stocked his roster with future NBA draft picks – but scoring only 16 points in the second half was disconcerting.
By all accounts, PC did not show up, figuratively speaking, in their 69-60 loss at BC. That uninspired effort repeated itself against Brown before a disappointing and disappointed crowd of 4,124. The Bears played tough the entire game, built an 11-point lead and made defensive stops, rebounds and free throws down the stretch to hand the Friars a bad nonconference home loss.
Coach Ed Cooley’s challenge now is to get his players to do what they did in the first six games of the campaign, starting with defense and making layups. Stars LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn must exercise the leadership their team needs.
URI comes to town with a 5-2 record on routs of Pace and UMass Lowell; an overtime upset of then-No. 21 Nebraska; a 76-60 loss to No. 11/12 Kansas, a blowout of Santa Clara, and a three-point loss to Georgia Tech, all at the Orlando Classic, and a 32-point romp at Southern Mississippi last Saturday. Sophomore E.C. Matthews, the Atlantic 10 rookie of the year last season, is averaging 16.1 points, sophomore forward Hassan Martin 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds and freshman guard Jared Terrell 10.7 points. Senior Gilvytas Biruta is averaging 9.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Third-year coach Dan Hurley has his Rams playing with confidence, a critical factor for any team expecting to beat Providence at the Dunk.
These teams first played 94 years ago, on Dec. 7, 1920. PC leads the series, 70-56, and has won the last four. The Friars escaped the Ryan Center with a 50-49 win last year.
The rivalry is fierce, the Yankees-Red Sox of college basketball in the Ocean State, but nothing like the bitter intensity that existed in the late 1970s after prized recruit Sly Williams changed his mind at the last minute and enrolled at PC instead of URI and after PC athletics director Dave Gavitt declined to invite URI to join the new Big East Conference. Animosity ran so high that in 1980 the schools agreed to end their twice-a-season arrangement and play only once. Both communities seem to respect each other now, but neither appears interested in a return to two games per season.