Providence coach Ed Cooley was high on his team’s ability to make shots coming into the season.
“I thought this would be one of my better shooting teams,” Cooley said.
With two games left in the regular season, Cooley’s team is arguably the worst shooting team in the Big East. The Friars rank ninth in the 10-team league in field-goal percentage (.415) and last in 3-point field-goal percentage (.315).
The shooting woes caught up with the Friars in February.
After opening with 18 wins in 22 games, Providence went 2-5 in February. Instead of contending for a conference championship, the Friars find themselves tied for fifth heading into Wednesday’s home game against Creighton.
“I’m baffled,” Cooley said. “We shoot the ball well in practice, we shoot the ball when we’re preparing, but we’ve really, really struggled this year to make shots.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott can feel Cooley’s pain. The Bluejays were the best shooting team in the Big East after nonconference play. The Bluejays still rank fourth in field-goal percentage (.471) and third in 3-point percentage (.347) heading into March.
But the Bluejays have struggled to make shots in conference games, particularly from beyond the arc. They have made just 30.7 percent of their 3-point shots in Big East games to rank last in the conference.
Their 44.1 percent field-goal shooting in 16 Big East games ranks seventh.
“You go back and look at numbers from nonconference play, and we were the best 3-point shooting team in the league,” McDermott said. “You might argue that you’re not playing as good a competition as you are now, but neither were any of the other nine teams.
“How we’ve went from the best-shooting team to the worst-shooting team is perplexing to me. We continue to shoot it well in practice, so that’s why we continue to shoot them in the game.”
There is a striking difference in how the Bluejays have shot the ball in their nine Big East wins compared to their seven league losses. Creighton has converted 47.7 percent of its field-goal attempts and 35.3 percent of its 3-point shots in the wins.
In the losses, Creighton has made 39.6 percent of its field goals and 24.8 percent of its 3-point shots. Three of the seven losses have been by five points or fewer.
“If we are going to make some noise at the end of the season, we have to stay solid on the defensive end and on the defensive glass,” McDermott said. “But if we don’t make some shots, we’re going to struggle to get to where we want to be.”
The Bluejays’ desired destination is the NCAA tournament. They sit well off the bubble right now, but know a strong finish could put them in the discussion for an at-large berth.
The February struggles have sent the Friars slipping closer to the bubble after being considered a sure-fire tournament team most of the season.
Providence is led by two of the best players in the league, sophomore forward Ben Bentil and junior guard Kris Dunn. Bentil leads the Big East in scoring with a 20.9 average and leads his team in shooting at 46.1 percent.
Dunn, considered the odds-on favorite to win the league’s player of the year award coming into the season, leads the league in steals, is second in assists and fifth in scoring.
In Big East games, Providence is shooting a league-worst 38.2 percent from the field. The Friars have made 31.1 percent of their 3-point attempts to rank ninth.
“We went out and recruited some players to be shot-takers and shot-makers for us,” Cooley said. “For whatever reasons, that hasn’t worked out.
“When you’re making shots, the game is totally different. But if every time you’re in a game and it’s a rock fight, it becomes tough.”
Too many of Providence’s games have been rock fights. Creighton has had its share of those, which leaves McDermott empathizing with Cooley.
“I think Ed feels that he has good shooters who have good shots that haven’t dropped,” McDermott said. “The thing is that when they’ve shot it well, they’ve played really well.
“We just hope that isn’t the case on Wednesday.”
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