Ed Cooley had done an absolutely masterful job of getting a Providence team so heavily reliant on two players to a 17-3 record.
Now he needs to figure out a way to adjust in order to stop the bleeding.
The No. 20 Friars fell again Wednesday night, this time in a relatively crazy double-overtime matchup against Marquette. Ben Bentil did his job, putting up a Big East-wide season high of 42 points to go with 12 rebounds. It was a masterful performance that was truly among the best in all of college basketball this season against a tough Marquette frontline that includes potential NBA top-five pick Henry Ellenson and another potential All-Big East performer in Luke Fischer.
Kris Dunn also did his part before fouling out in the first overtime with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with seven rebounds and six assists. The problem, as it so often has been for the Friars this season, came with the supporting cast.
In 50 minutes, the rest of Providence’s team shot 12 of 34 from the field and just generally didn’t provide any sort of offensive threat or floor-spacing. Ryan Fazekas is still mired in a dreadful slump that has seen him shoot 23 percent since returning from injury. Rodney Bullock has only been in double-figures twice in his past six games. The same can be said for Kyron Cartwright. Jalen Lindsay hasn’t yet hit double-figures in Big East play.
Two stars can get you to a point, but to get to that next level Providence is going to need to get more consistent production from its supporting cast to take pressure off of its stars. Otherwise, stretches like this one where the Friars have lost four of their past five could become more likely.
For its part, Marquette did an excellent defensive job in the second half, limiting what Dunn and Bentil could do in order to get fully back into the game and eventually take control by grabbing a nine-point lead. Ellenson was great again in putting up 26 points and 16 rebounds, but it was the play of his fellow freshmen, guards Haanif Cheatham and Traci Carter, that provided the depth to get the win. Carter had 12 points off the bench. including a lay-in to force overtime in regulation. Cheatham had 21 points and six rebounds, as well, and was a consistent attacking presence for the Eagles.
But ultimately, the questions in this one are going to come back to the Providence team that looked like a Final Four contender just three weeks ago. Can Cooley bring this team together again and wring enough production out of his supporting cast? Or are the Friars destined to become one of those teams that simply peaked too early in the season and struggled when everyone else figured them out?