Cotton leads Providence past Rhode Island 80-61
KINGSTON, R.I.—Ed Cooley has won 11 of his first 13 games as he tries to rebuild the Providence basketball program. But for Cooley, the real season-- the Big East season-- begins Tuesday night in New York against St. John's.
"I'm nervous about our conference schedule," Cooley said after his Friars broke open a close game in the second half and cruised to an 80-61 non-conference road victory over local rival Rhode Island. "The Big East is so competitive top to bottom, we got picked in 15th place (in a 16-team league) and that's something that I'll let my team know about every time we step on the floor.
"We have a lot to prove. We haven't done anything. We have a lot to prove. This is where your season begins. This is why you came here. You want to compete against the best teams in the country and this is what we're going to try to coach our teams to do."
Sophomore guard Bryce Cotton scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half and Providence broke things open for its seventh straight victory.
The Friars, the first road team to win a game in this annual series in the last nine years, sent Rhode Island to its eighth straight loss and to the program's first 1-11 start since 1974-75. Providence, won for the first time in five tries at Rhode Island's Ryan Center.
Cotton, averaging 15.4 points per game coming in, nailed back-to-back 3-pointers during an 8-0 spurt that turned a 41-40 lead to 49-40, and the Friars extended the lead to 12, 57-45, with 12:03 left in the game.
The Providence fans, urged on by Cooley waving his arms after the first Cotton 3-pointer, stayed and had all kinds of fun. Cooley was cheerleading the entire second half.
"It pumped everybody up -- not only the crowd but the team as well," Cotton said of Cooley's cheerleading.
Winning this local rivalry game was "special" in the coach's words, and Cotton breaking out in the second half was a positive sign with St. John's coming, followed by a visit to No. 16 Georgetown.
Cotton took seven of Providence's nine 3-pointers, and his coach wants him to shoot the ball even more.
Gerard Coleman scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Friars, who out-rebounded Rhode Island 50-33. Point guard Vincent Council, playing "as well as any point guard in the country," according to Cooley, had 15 points, six assists and six rebounds. Brice Kofane came off the bench with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Jonathan Holton led the Rams with 15 points and six rebounds.
The Rams were playing with an altered roster. They had transfers Billy Baron (the coach's son) and Andre Malone active for the first time, but their arrival coincided with the loss of second-leading scorer Nikola Malesevic, who suffered a broken hand after Rhode Island's Dec. 18 loss to Yale.
The two newcomers were a combined 1-for-14 from the floor and scored seven points for a team looking for answers.
"One-and-eleven - that's terrible," said senior Orion Outerbridge, who scored 13 points. "Some of these guys haven't lost 12 games their whole high school careers. A lot of guys know how to deal with it, but we're going to have to get through this - it's the reality. All you can do is try to get better."
Cooley, a Providence native proud to win this intra-state battle, said he talked to Baron after the game, later saying, "Coach has a good team and I'm just glad the game is over."