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Cotton far from the only option in Friars' arsenal

January 15, 2014

Bryce Cotton (11) and his Providence College teammates seek to make it two straight Big East wins tonight at St. John’s. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

PROVIDENCE – It’s starting to happen. Bryce Cotton is staring at the probability of roughly two months remaining in his Providence College basketball career.

As time becomes the senior’s enemy, so too does the sense that the adjectives specifically reserved to describe Cotton’s on-court playmaking abilities are seemingly stuck on repeat. Long ago, games of 20 or more points went from the exception to the rule for Cotton. When a player crosses over such a rarified threshold, in turn it becomes easy for fans to fall into a state of complacency.

For all the heavy lifting that Cotton does for PC on a game-in, game-out basis, you gather the sense that he could roll out of bed and drop 20 points and hand out five or six assists like it was no big deal. While there have been many occasions this season when the Friars have given the impression that they’ve been playing one against five, a recent observation by Georgetown head coach John Thompson III raises an interesting point.

As much firepower is packed into Cotton’s lithe and springy 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame, Thompson insists that he’s far from stranded on a deserted island, waiting for Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris and LaDontae Henton to come to the rescue.

“Bryce hasn’t stopped for a couple of years and you have to give his teammates as much credit as you give him because they’re an unselfish group,” Thompson pointed out. “They are going to set the screen that gets him open. They are going to look for him with the understanding that he’s not only a scorer, but if you focus too much on him, he will spread it around.”

There’s no question where PC’s bread is buttered heading into Thursday’s road contest at St. John’s. In Cotton, the Friars boast the Big East’s second leading scorer (20.2 ppg) and leading assist man (5.7), with such production coming while he grinds his body through nearly 40 minutes per night.

In looking at Cotton from purely a scorer’s perspective, it’s important to note that while he’s improved by leaps and bounds at driving and finishing at the rim, he’s at his supreme best when seeking out daylight along the 3-point line. His teammates understand the importance of placing him in prime catch-and-shoot positions, whether the job responsibility calls for setting screens or delivering the perfect pass where there’s no hesitation on Cotton’s part.

“With him being a scorer, we keep reminding him to do what he does best, which is to be aggressive,” said Batts. “The more he’s aggressive, the more the rest of us feed off of that.”

The probability of Cotton keeping his foot firmly on the pedal at all times skyrockets when the cast around him is chipping in, thus denying opposing defenses the invitation to send waves of defenders in his direction. To that end, PC head coach Ed Cooley certainly hopes that Batts can build off last week’s 21-point outing against Georgetown.

“We have a slight margin for error,” Cooley noted. “The more we can cut down on our mistakes and produce, the more success we’ll have.”

Added Cotton, “Nobody can do anything without the four other players on the court. At the end of the day, we need overall contributions. Even when I’m double-teamed, that doesn’t bother me because I know players are going to be open and they’re going to knock down shots. I’m not worried about my success at all.”

Batts admitted that it took a while for him to adjust to playing with a high-volume point producer who also doubles as the leading distributor of the ball. While Cotton isn’t a black hole as it relates to a scorer who once he gets his hands on the ball, there’s little chance that his teammates will see it, he’s also not a classic ball distributor in the sense that he’s looking to set up others while worrying about his own offense after all other options have been exhausted.

“It’s been an adjustment after playing with true point guards like Kris (Dunn) or Vincent (Council), but Bryce is getting better and better,” Batts said. “Obviously teams are going to key on him because they know we don’t have a lot of depth, but the better screens I set, the more open he can get off them.”

Said Cooley, “Everyone has to buy into their role with where they’re at right now. The screeners got to screen and the shooters have to shoot. It’s still a process, but we’re settling into that adjustment. As you’ve seen in the last couple of games, our players are getting comfortable with each other with the roles they’re in.”

***

On Kris Dunn, Cooley said he expects the injured sophomore to return to campus by week’s end. The second semester at Providence begins next Tuesday. Dunn has been in his hometown of New London, Conn. since undergoing shoulder surgery late last month.

“Everything went great,” said Cooley. “He’s still grieving his mom’s death, but I’m looking forward to having him back in the next couple of days.”

Dunn’s mom passed away last month, not long after it was announced that he would miss the rest of the season.

***

St. John’s has lost all four of its Big East games thus far, the most recent defeat coming Tuesday night at DePaul. The Red Storm average 8.8 blocks per game, a high sum that leads the conference and should concern Cooley’s Friars. Chris Obekpa is tops with 4.06 blocks with Sir’Dominic Pointer and onetime PC recruiting target Orlando Sanchez also listed among the Big East’s top 10 swatters.

“Their athleticism stands out. We’re going to have our hands full,” said Cooley. “Every night we’re going to have the same conversation about someone in our league. Creighton, Xavier and Butler all have their groups, but we have our work cut out if we’re going to have success.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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