Bryce Cotton (11) and his Providence College teammates seek to make it two straight Big East wins tonight at St. Johnâ€™s. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
PROVIDENCE â€“ Itâ€™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 seniorâ€™s enemy, so too does the sense that the adjectives specifically reserved to describe Cottonâ€™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 theyâ€™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 Cottonâ€™s lithe and springy 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame, Thompson insists that heâ€™s far from stranded on a deserted island, waiting for Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris and LaDontae Henton to come to the rescue.
â€śBryce hasnâ€™t stopped for a couple of years and you have to give his teammates as much credit as you give him because theyâ€™re an unselfish group,â€ť Thompson pointed out. â€śThey are going to set the screen that gets him open. They are going to look for him with the understanding that heâ€™s not only a scorer, but if you focus too much on him, he will spread it around.â€ť
Thereâ€™s no question where PCâ€™s bread is buttered heading into Thursdayâ€™s road contest at St. Johnâ€™s. In Cotton, the Friars boast the Big Eastâ€™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 scorerâ€™s perspective, itâ€™s important to note that while heâ€™s improved by leaps and bounds at driving and finishing at the rim, heâ€™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 thereâ€™s no hesitation on Cottonâ€™s part.
â€śWith him being a scorer, we keep reminding him to do what he does best, which is to be aggressive,â€ť said Batts. â€śThe more heâ€™s aggressive, the more the rest of us feed off of that.â€ť
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 weekâ€™s 21-point outing against Georgetown.
â€śWe have a slight margin for error,â€ť Cooley noted. â€śThe more we can cut down on our mistakes and produce, the more success weâ€™ll have.â€ť
Added Cotton, â€śNobody can do anything without the four other players on the court. At the end of the day, we need overall contributions. Even when Iâ€™m double-teamed, that doesnâ€™t bother me because I know players are going to be open and theyâ€™re going to knock down shots. Iâ€™m not worried about my success at all.â€ť
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 isnâ€™t a black hole as it relates to a scorer who once he gets his hands on the ball, thereâ€™s little chance that his teammates will see it, heâ€™s also not a classic ball distributor in the sense that heâ€™s looking to set up others while worrying about his own offense after all other options have been exhausted.
â€śItâ€™s been an adjustment after playing with true point guards like Kris (Dunn) or Vincent (Council), but Bryce is getting better and better,â€ť Batts said. â€śObviously teams are going to key on him because they know we donâ€™t have a lot of depth, but the better screens I set, the more open he can get off them.â€ť
Said Cooley, â€śEveryone has to buy into their role with where theyâ€™re at right now. The screeners got to screen and the shooters have to shoot. Itâ€™s still a process, but weâ€™re settling into that adjustment. As youâ€™ve seen in the last couple of games, our players are getting comfortable with each other with the roles theyâ€™re in.â€ť
On Kris Dunn, Cooley said he expects the injured sophomore to return to campus by weekâ€™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.
â€śEverything went great,â€ť said Cooley. â€śHeâ€™s still grieving his momâ€™s death, but Iâ€™m looking forward to having him back in the next couple of days.â€ť
Dunnâ€™s mom passed away last month, not long after it was announced that he would miss the rest of the season.
St. Johnâ€™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 Cooleyâ€™s Friars. Chris Obekpa is tops with 4.06 blocks with Sirâ€™Dominic Pointer and onetime PC recruiting target Orlando Sanchez also listed among the Big Eastâ€™s top 10 swatters.
â€śTheir athleticism stands out. Weâ€™re going to have our hands full,â€ť said Cooley. â€śEvery night weâ€™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 weâ€™re going to have success.â€ť
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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