By Kevin Sweeney
To say that Providence limped into tonight’s matchup against Houston would be an understatement. Already without Emmitt Holt for the season due to injury, the Friars were without Maliek White and star guards Kyron Cartwright and Alpha Diallo weren’t close to 100%.
Those absences were evident from the start, and the Friars were unable to overcome a 20 point second half deficit despite a furious comeback, falling 70-59 to Houston at Mohegan Sun Arena as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase. Rob Gray led the way with 24 points for the Cougars, who grab another nice win for their resume come March.
For much of the night, the Friars couldn’t do anything on the offensive end with their best creator (Cartwright) and best wing scorer (Diallo) both extremely limited. Yet the Friars were able to hang around in the first half thanks to some stingy defense and went into the intermission trailing by just 8. However, they weren’t able to continue that defensive success in the second, as Gray exploded with his team’s first 8 points of the second half to help open up a lead that would balloon to as much as 56-35 with 11:55 to go.
Then, the Friars began to slowly chip away. A 13-2 run got the Friars back within striking distance, and Providence would get as close as 8. But the comeback just never seemed to quite get the spark it needed to be completed, as a few big buckets by Houston as well as a couple momemtum-changing misses by Providence kept the Cougars lead safe.
“We know the type of team we can be, Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “When you are missing 3 or 4 starters, it’s hard.”
On the health of Cartwright and Diallo, Cooley said that both wanted to give it a go, but it was clear they weren’t healthy when they were out there. Health has to be the number one concern for the Friars going forward as they take on Sacred Heart on Friday before opening Big East play on December 28 at St. John’s. The Friars were led by Rodney Bullock, who had 24 points and 8 rebounds in the contest.
Meanwhile, Houston moves to 10-2 on the season behind Gray’s 24 points along with Galen Robinson’s 12 points and 6 assists. They open AAC play on December 28 on the road at South Florida.