With all five projected starters returning from a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, Providence was looking for even bigger and better things in 2017-18. However, coach Ed Cooley would settle for just better - as in feeling better - when his Friars close out non-conference play when Sacred Heart visits Friday.
With forward Emmitt Holt (12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds in 2016-17) already out for the season with an abdominal issue, starting guards Kyron Cartwright and Alpha Diallo tried to fight through ankle injuries against Houston on Wednesday, but both were ineffective and failed to score in a combined 19 minutes off the bench in the 70-59 loss. Senior forward Rodney Bullock had a season-high 24 points and eight rebounds but didn’t get much help as the undermanned Friars shot 37 percent, were outrebounded 42-35 and forced only 10 turnovers despite applying full-court pressure much of the second half. “Our injuries have definitely caught up to us the last couple of games, scoring 62 (win over Stony Brook) and 59 points,” coach Ed Cooley told the Providence Journal. “We definitely need our guys to get healthy. I was proud of how we competed and fought back from a big, big hole and gave ourselves an opportunity to get lucky late, but right now our offensive struggles are really catching up to us.” Sacred Heart, which lost Cane Broome (23.1 points in 2015-16) and Quincy McKnight (18.9 points in 2016-17) the past two years as transfers to Cincinnati and Seton Hall, respectively, is coming off a 51-48 home loss to Binghamton and has dropped all three games to teams from major conferences this season by a combined 86 points.
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ABOUT SACRED HEART (5-7): The Pioneers blew a 10-point halftime lead and shot just 31.6 percent from the floor for the game in Sunday’s loss, as Joseph Lopez and Seah Hoehn led the way with 11 points each but shot a combined 8-of-25. With McKnight transferring out after last season, senior forward Lopez has taken over the on-court leadership role by averaging team highs of 13.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, but he has left plenty of points at the line with a 43.3 percent free-throw percentage and his field-goal percentage has dropped from 56.5 percent last seasonto 44.4. Junior Hoehn (12.2 points, 3.8 assists) and 6-8 Mario Matasovic (10.8 points, 6.3 rebounds), the tallest rotation player on the squad, are the Pioneers’ only other double-digit scorers.
ABOUT PROVIDENCE (8-4): Another player out with a leg injury is sophomore guard Maliek White, who averages 6.1 points in 16.2 minutes per game and has connected on 9-of-19 shots beyond the arc. Bullock leads the team in scoring (15.6 points), rebounds (6.6), steals (14 total) and free-throw attempts (69) and is second in made 3-pointers (17). After scoring 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting in his first start Sunday against Stony Brook, 6-10 freshman Nate Watson was limited to three points and three shots in 21 minutes in his second start versus the Cougars.
1. Providence has won each of the previous four games between the schools, with the last meeting in 2010.
2. With 3.8 offensive rebounds per game, Joseph ranks first in the NEC and 10th nationally.
3. Bullock has scored in double figures in 10 straight games.
PREDICTION: Providence 73, Sacred Heart 59