Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

Friars fall to Aggies in first-round of NCAA tournament

March 16, 2018 - 5:04 pm

By John Rooke

You knew it was coming. 

Like so many Nor’easters that can cause havoc at home through the winter, you just know it’s coming and there’s little you can do about it.  Providence knew they were up against it against Texas A&M with the Aggies’ size and strength inside Friday in Charlotte, NC.

The mission was to ‘block out.’  The Aggies did the better job of it, edging the Friars 73-69 in the NCAA opening round at the Spectrum Center, and ending Providence’s season.  A huge 44-26 advantage on the backboards for A&M was a big reason for the Friars’ heading home early.

“I don’t think we played well and I think that had a lot to do with it,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.  “I just didn’t feel my team played with the purpose and energy that we’ve played with in the past.  Halftime we’re right where we needed to be, in the second half we couldn’t get over the hump.”

The Friars scored the first six points of the contest as the Aggies started 0-for-10 from the floor.  But PC could never pull away, as A&M’s overwhelming size advantage started wearing on the Friars early.  The Aggies managed a one point, 28-27 lead at the half – despite shooting only 33% from the floor.

It was either a very good job of defending, or a poor job of shooting from A&M.  Perhaps a little of both.  Freshman guard T.J. Starks was held scoreless in the first half in his matchup with PC’s Kyron Cartwright, but it was Starks that turned the ignition on the Aggie engine in the second half.

Starks hit a quick three to open the half, followed by six straight Friar points before finding big man Robert Williams for one of several second half dunks inside.  After Alpha Diallo (21 points, 7 rebounds) scored on a layup to give the Friars a 37-35 advantage with 15:34 to play, Starks again found Tyler Davis inside, D.J. Hogg for a trey, Davis for another layup and then capped off a 10-0 run with a three of his own.

In 2:26, the Aggies hit the Friars with a punch to the gut that became hard to overcome, thanks to Starks.

“His play in going downhill, he’s really hard to stop once he gets going,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.

Still, the Friars kept it close and tied the score at 50-50 with 9:06 remaining after a Kyron Cartwright jumper.  The opportunity to grab momentum, and the lead, was at hand.

Both teams went scoreless for a minute, until Robert Williams began a 9-2 run with a lay in and a free throw.  Junior guard Admon Gilder, who kept the Aggies going through a tough first half, also scored on dribble penetration, and the moves to the inside loosened up the Friar defense enough to allow Williams and Tyler Davis to score on consecutive possessions. 

A 9-2 run made it 59-52 A&M with 4:13 to play.

Offensive scoring droughts, long a PC problem this season, came back to bite hard.  Two points in seven minutes pretty much sealed their fate from that point.

“I thought their length, it bothered us around the rim in the second half, but I don’t think we played the way we wanted to play and then we tried to hold on for dear life and we weren’t fortunate to move on.”

“I wouldn’t say they did anything differently in the second half,” Diallo added.  “They definitely get a lot of 50-50 balls and then those led to easy 3’s for them, which hurt us down the stretch. Their length really bothered us inside.”

From there, Providence could not get closer than the final margin of four within the remaining time.  And for the fourth time during this five-year NCAA tournament streak, the Friars find themselves on the short side of the scoreboard, after coming up short on the backboards in this one as well.

“Part of our Achilles heel this entire year was not being able to complete an assignment and that’s missing shots,” Cooley added.  “And their length was very impressive and definitely bothered us. 

“Hopefully, next year we get an opportunity to be in this game again.”

NCAA Tournament Notes

Providence finishes the season 21-14 overall, as Ed Cooley drops to 1-5 in NCAA play.  The loss in Charlotte was the first-ever for the Friars in the Queen City, after winning two in 1997 and two in 1973 during postseason tournament play…A&M shot a lights-out 68% from the floor in the second half, providing the difference in the end for the Aggies.  PC’s record was 1-8 this season when the opponent shot 50% or better from the floor – and the Aggies shot exactly 50% for the game…Providence was led by Rodney Bullocks’ 22 points in his final game as a Friars, Diallo finished with 21 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.  Seniors’ Cartwright (11 points, 9 assists) and Jalen Lindsey (6 points on 2-5 shooting) wrap up their PC careers as part of the only class in school history to reach four straight NCAA tournaments…Bullock finishes 21st in the PC record book in scoring with 1404 career points…Cartwright, who also scored more than 1000 points in his four years, finishes 3rd in career assists with 646, behind Vincent Council and Ernie DiGregorio…