By BRENDAN McGAIR
Special to ZAGSBLOG
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – As difficult as it can be for a team on the rise to get up for a perceived weaker sister, Providence made sure not to let its guard down Wednesday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Seton Hall certainly tried to provide a challenging test – the Pirates drop to 3-14 in the Big East after going down by a 76-66 count – but PC did to them what good teams do to bad ones. By taking care of business against one of the conference’s bottom dwellers, the Friars stand at 9-8, a mark equaled by Villanova for seventh-best in the league.
Based on sweeping the season series with the Wildcats, the Friars would enter the Big East Tournament as the No. 7 seed. Such a ranking would earn Ed Cooley’s club an opening-round game at Madison Square Garden against Cincinnati. The Bearcats – 8-9 heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against South Florida – would be the No. 10 seed.
Speaking of the Bulls, they appear ticketed to lock horns with the Pirates when the curtain goes up on Big East tourney play next Tuesday night.
Wednesday saw Providence redshirt junior Kadeem Batts continue to state his case as to why he would be named Big East Most Improved Player. The burly forward stood toe-to-toe with Seton Hall man child Eugene Teague to deliver a game-best 27 points and 12 rebounds.
As a sophomore, Batts averaged 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 19.7 minutes. Prior to taking the floor against the Pirates, his numbers stood at 14.8 ppg and 7.0 rebounds nearly 31 minutes.
“Clearly he’s the most improved player in our league,” said Pirates head coach Kevin Willard, whose team was without suspended big man Kevin Johnson.
Vincent Council flirted with a triple-double in his final Friar home game, finishing with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds. The Big East’s all-time leader in assists received three separate standing ovations from the crowd, including one with 19.9 seconds remaining when Cooley removed his starting point guard.
“Over the past couple of days I talked to the guys about making sure we send Vincent out on a high note,” Cooley said.
Added Batts, “I’ve never played with a point guard that great, so that’s why we wanted to get this win.”
Despite humming along on offense, PC was up just 44-36 at halftime after allowing Seton Hall to shoot a blistering 55.6 percent in opening 20 minutes. Things turned in the Friars’ favor dramatically as the Pirates found the sledding tough, firing at a frosty 31-percent clip during the second half to finish the contest at 42.9 percent.
“They had a lot of easy looks in the first half, so we wanted to make sure we took away the three and played tough inside,” said Batts.
On that note, Seton Hall scored just 10 points in the paint over the final 20 minutes after torching PC for 22 in the opening stanza. The Friars held the Big East’s top 3-point shooting outfit to 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) from downtown.
“I thought they did a good job of putting a little more pressure on us in the backcourt. I thought our shot selection was good, but it wasn’t as good in the first half,” Willard said.
The Friars dabbled in double-digit leads in the first half and then again in the second, but it took until the final three minutes to put the Pirates down for good. Council applied the dagger when he sprinted into the frontcourt before kicking the ball to Bryce Cotton. The junior buried a trey that made it 74-64 PC with just over two minutes remaining.
Fuquan Edwin was one of five Seton Hall players to hit for double figures, finishing with 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Teague added 13 points despite picking up his fourth foul with eight minutes remaining.
The win is PC’s seventh in eight tries with only a trip to Connecticut Saturday remaining in the regular season. Seton Hall now turns its attention to a New Jersey showdown with Rutgers on Friday night.
Photo: USA Today Sports