Winning, like savoring a single malt Scotch, is an acquired taste. It takes time, 12 years in some cases. It takes work and patience and luck. And just as one must learn to sip that single malt, neat or on ice, one must learn how to win. Providence College and the University of Rhode Island are proof.
After too many long, dark winters, the Friars and Rams are winning basketball games again. Lots of them. PC is 17-7, 7-4 in the Big East, and will welcome sixth-ranked Villanova (21-2, 8-2) to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Wednesday night. URI is 16-5, 8-2 and tied for first with Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10. Wednesday night in Philadelphia, the Rams will play St. Joseph’s (10-12, 4-6).Sports blogger Mike Szostak gives RIPR's Dave Fallon a preview of Wednesday's games for PC and URI.
Providence did win last year, finishing 23-12 and winning the Big East Tournament. The Friars took North Carolina to the wire before losing by two in the NCAA Tournament. But success for coach Ed Cooley’s crew came after two years of on-court struggles, off-court controversies and injuries. This season the Friars learned early on that LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn were capable of filling the leadership void left by All-Big East star Bryce Cotton. Each has made big plays time and again. Henton leads the team in scoring, and Dunn, although a guard, is just about an automatic double-double and even turned in a triple-double against DePaul on Jan. 29 with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Freshman Ben Bentil is he Big East rookie of the week for his 32 points and 17 rebounds in a victory at Georgetown and a loss at Xavier.
URI provided its tournament-starved fans glimmers of hope in 2014 and this season has developed the confidence of a winner. Sophomore E.C. Matthews has been steady from the start. Sophomore Hassan Martin is a rebounding, shot-blocking machine. Freshmen Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett add backcourt strength, and T.J. Buchanan and Gilvydas Biruta provide the steady hand one expects of seniors.
Winning demands discipline, sacrifice, focus, commitment and belief. The best evidence of those qualities is coming out on top in close games, and PC and URI have done so. Take PC: 64-60 over Albany; 75-74 over Notre Dame; 66-62 at Butler; 60-57 over Georgetown in overtime; 69-66 over Xavier in overtime; 74-71 at Georgetown. Six games won by four points or fewer. Impressive.
And look at the Rams: 66-62 over No. 21 Nebraska in overtime; 68-65 over Fordham and 64-63 at Fordham; 61-60 at Duquesne; 53-48 over St. Bonaventure; 59-55 over George Washington and 79-74 at Richmond. Seven victories by five points or fewer. Now that’s confidence.
Two or three years ago, the Friars and Rams most likely would have lost those games because they lacked the talent or didn’t know how to win. This season they have the talent, the knowledge and the taste for winning.