Second Half Run Propels Providence to Win over UNH Wildcats 69-58

The Crier and I feared a hangover game may transpire against the University of New Hampshire. It turns out that this UNH team is simply a good basketball team and threw enough counter punches to stay competitive throughout the duration of the game. Providence used a second half surge to pull away and remain undefeated heading into next week’s Legends Classic.

We discuss key themes of the game and what led to the victory:

  1. Don’t look now, but this Providence team is starting to flex their muscles defensively: Over the past three games, PC has allowed 58, 58, and 64 points. The ironic thing about the 58 point output from New Hampshire is that they made several VERY difficult buckets in this game to stay competitive. Providence overall did a nice job, allowing UNH to only shoot 39% from the field.

I think Cooley is starting to really figure out who he can trust on the defensive end, and that usually earns more playing time. Which brings us to point number 2.

2. Minaya and Breed were the catalysts for the second half run to pull away against UNH – We’ve said in previous game recaps (https://theprovidencecrier.com/2021/11/10/providence-opens-the-season-with-a-close-win-against-fairfield-80-73/#more-3906) that Minaya and Breed are bench players in name only. They are essentially starters and should be seeing starter minutes. This was proven true against the UNH Wildcats, as Minaya and Breed played 33 minutes and 21 minutes, respectively. What is more eye-opening is that they saw more minutes than their starter counterparts in Reeves and Bynum. Breed and Minaya helped lead the second half surge to pull away from UNH and secure the victory.

It is quite clear that when these two are on the court, the overall team defense improves significantly. Both Minaya and Breed do a lot of the little things that a coach dreams about (https://theprovidencecrier.com/2021/11/12/friars-improve-to-2-0-beat-sacred-heart-92-64/#more-3945). While Minaya may not have the stroke that Reeves does, Minaya is an absolute menace on-ball defender, rebounds incredibly well for his size (10 boards), and finishes around the rim with ease. Bynum may be more of a pure point at this stage in their careers, but Breed can score at the rim with more effectiveness and isn’t as much of a defensive liability.

All four players have a role with Providence and will be leaned on throughout the season. It is just very refreshing to know that two players off the bench can be counted on to not only contribute, but lead the team when necessary.

3. Offensive identity needs to be inside-out, not outside-in – Providence continues to befuddle me with their insistence on relying on the perimeter shot instead of using their size and athleticism in the paint. Providence was 4-15 from three, which clearly isn’t great, but what frustrated me the most was Nate Watson only getting 8 shot attempts. A player the caliber of Watson should probably be attempting double that amount. Watson miraculously finished with 17 points, converting 7 of those shots. If Nate hit a few more of those free throws, he finishes at or above 20 points again.

I’m hopeful Cooley reiterates during film review that this offense in the half court set begins with Watson. It isn’t unrealistic to ask that Watson gets a touch every half court possession. He is too dominant of a big man to have only 8 attempts.

We saw this same thing against Wisconsin where Nate was seemingly invisible on the court in the last 5 or so minutes. It is no surprise that the offense stalled out during this time. Watson is Providence’s best offensive option and choosing not to feed him is head scratching. This needs to be remedied moving forward because our half court sets haven’t been particularly great, and Watson getting touches also puts the opposing frontcourt in foul trouble.

4. Free throws are going to burn this team – I hate making these type of negative predictions, but it is clear that the lackluster effort from the charity stripe is going to hurt Providence. PC went 61% from the line last night. On the year, they are 64.9%.

If Providence cannot get the free throw numbers up to 70%, there is going to come a time where they lose a game from the free throw line.

Summary

Providence is finding some answers on the defensive end, and that is great. PC being 4-0 with a lot of unanswered questions leaves me cautiously optimistic that they can find another gear. Even if this team is never the offensive juggernaut like a Villanova, they should feel very comfortable hanging their hat on defensive intensity and front court play.

At 4-0, I’ll be curious to see if the Friars receive any votes in the AP Poll heading into the Legends Classic at Newark. The next game is against the boogeymen from 2 years ago in Northwestern. They then play either Georgia or Virginia the next day.

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