PROVIDENCE — Minus 6-foot-10, 260-pound center Nate Watson, who was sidelined for nearly a month with a tender knee, Providence College basketball coach Ed Cooley had to view various roster combinations, trying to figure out a good offensive unit, a good defensive unit, what five players that he wants to have on the floor to finish out a game.
“Not having Nate changes our team dramatically,” Cooley said after PC delivered a resounding 93-56 victory over Merrimack on Tuesday at The Dunk – the same Warriors who beat Northwestern by 10 points, while Wildcats then pinned a nine-point setback on the Friars.
But even with Watson making his first, yet limited appearance of the season, five minutes into the game, the Friars were far from a refined product for the first 20 minutes – facing a 10-point deficit at the eight-minute mark and later a 12-point gap.
Then in a reversal of fate, the Friars hit on 14 of their first 18 shots from the floor in the second half, going on a 20-1 burst to take control at 69-41.
PC finished with six double figure scorers – Luwane Pipkins (18 points, eight assists), Maliek White (15 points, four assists), Watson (14 points on 6-for-7 shooting), Kalif Young (13 points, six rebounds), Emmitt Holt (11 points, 10 rebounds) and David Duke (10 points, five rebounds, five assists).
The Friars were woeful shooting (13-for-30), committed seven turnovers and had 12 one-shot possessions during the first half. Seven players worked at least 10 minutes as Cooley searched for workable combinations.
Alpha Diallo, arguably, PC’s best player had two points in 10 minutes of work without taking a shot, while the Friars’ best shooter, arguably, A.J. Reeves was without a point and without a shot.
PC resurrected itself and reeled off 14 straight points. PC took 15 first half points on 11 Merrimack turnovers. A Pipkins steal and 3-point play and four points from Emmitt Holt (the latter off of a Duke steal) gave PC its first lead (24-22) and 38-33 halftime margin.
“We showed our versatility, our depth,” Cooley said.
“Guys have to take advantage of the opportunities,” Cooley said of mingling in White, Jimmy Nichols and Kris Munroe, while Reeves and Greg Gantt were out of uniform; finding minutes for Holt, who hasn’t played in two seasons; and incorporating a new point guard, Pipkins, coming down the Mass. Turnpike from UMass-Amherst to Friartown.
“There’s going to be times when we need to make adjustments,” Cooley said of trying to figure out who’s who over the first month of non-Big East Conference games. “Those adjustments create opportunities for someone else.”
PC shot a gaudy 68 percent in the second half, while limiting Merrimack to 8-for-26; the Friars taking advantage of their size for 38 points in the paint; and 18 Merrimack turnovers for 31 points.
“Once we were able to limit our turnovers, we were able to use our size, we made the game more athletic which played into our hands.
“Nate (Watson) is getting better, we got to get him going, he’s the best post player in the Big East, I believe that — he is progressing,” Cooley said of the junior.
“For the guys who are going to play, it’s an opportunity to show that they belong,” Cooley said of finding rotations of players.
“We’re deep because we have experience. We have guys (Duke, Reeves) who played a lot last year. If you look at the depth that we have, the athleticism, the ability to pass the ball, that allows us to stretch our rotation.
“You have to play the guys that are going to produce, everybody feels that they should be playing. The kids that do play understand their role, embrace their role and just look at winning. This team has been a lot of fun to be around, they’re playing with a purpose.
“I have some tough decisions to make as these rotations get shorter. You have to do a good job of knowing who you are, who you are trying to be.”