Stew Milne/USA Today Sports

Friars fall in NIT, but what’s next?

John Rooke
March 20, 2019 - 9:56 am

The postseason for Providence basketball was a lot like a visit to the tax preparer’s office – brief, and no one really wants to be there.

Except for the tax preparer, of course.  Arkansas was only too happy to hang around the Dunkin Donuts Center Tuesday night to take what the Friars would give them, beating Providence 84-72 in a 1st round National Invitational Tournament game and ending PC’s season at 18-16.

“Today was a microcosm of the whole year,” PC head coach Ed Cooley told the media late Tuesday night as he summed up the disappointing end to his team’s season.  “We could not make a shot at times.  Credit Arkansas, they played well.  We tried a lot of different defenses, but we could just not slow them down. 

“To their credit, I think they were more excited to play than my guys,” Cooley added.  “They had a little more pop in their step.  Hopefully, in this situation again, we’ll have a little more energy and a little more pride.”

And what could have possibly been the reason for their having had more ‘pop?’  Arkansas was missing its’ top scorer and rebounder in 6-11 center Daniel Gafford, who signed with an agent earlier this week and declared himself ready to go for this summer’s NBA Draft – thereby leaving his teammates behind as they entered the postseason. 

Clearly, however, the young Razorbacks (with no seniors and eight freshman on the roster) felt they had something to prove not only to Providence, but to anyone else who’s seen them play this season.

"Knowing that people were going to doubt us, thinking we were going to lose and go home, we wanted to keep on pushing and get a good win," said Razorbacks’ sophomore guard Mason Jones, who led a balanced Arkansas attack with 18 points. "People thought we would be sorry because of Daniel, but he made the right decision for himself and we respect that.

“We wanted to show everyone that we had a team."

That, they had.  Arkansas (18-15) led Providence from start-to-finish, making it their first wire-to-wire win since early December.

On their way to an 11-point lead at the half, Arkansas showed off a quickness and speed to their offensive routine early, burying their first five shots from three-point range.  Meanwhile, as has been the case for much of this season, the Friars struggled at their own end by missing their first 11 three-point attempts. 

That the three-point line was extended for the NIT to match the FIBA international standard of 22-feet-plus mattered little. 

Even though Providence had a size advantage without Gafford in the middle for the Razorbacks, the Friars simply could not matchup with Arkansas’ overall agility.  Plus, with the Hogs having a chip on their shoulders playing without their star in the lineup, the Friars couldn’t match the emotion or energy they had on the floor, either.

And that issue may lie at the root of the problem for this Friar team.

“To me (it’s) unacceptable,” Cooley told the Providence Journal.  “I have to do a much better job with our group.  We have to definitely look at our program and evaluate what we need to go forward.  

“Hopefully we do a better job next season,” he added.  “It’s part of life.  When you’re in the business as long as I am, you’re going to have years like this. Hopefully not multiple times, or I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did.”

Cooley mentioned he’ll be hitting the recruiting trail this week to begin preparations for next season.  Providence returns all five of their starters next year, and only one player (5th year senior Isaiah Jackson) will be missing from the Top 10 players in the rotation. 

But that’s for now.  Decisions are to come for Emmitt Holt (seeking a 6th year medical redshirt waiver) and Drew Edwards (graduating in May with one year of eligibility left) on their possible inclusion for next season. 

It is obvious, however, that additional talent – shooting talent, especially – is sorely needed. 

Throw in some actual play-making skills at guard and perhaps another big man, and the Friars may be closer to where they want to be, at the top of the Big East.

But they’re not there right now.  Not even close with the current group.  And it doesn’t take an unwanted visit to the tax preparer’s office, or an NIT loss to Arkansas, to see that.