PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — To Providence head coach Ed Cooley, it mattered little that Fairfield was in the midst of a rough stretch.
"We played a real good basketball team today. They may have lost five straight coming in, but give them credit. They fought tool and nail down to the end," stated Cooley about the Stags after his Friars posted a 78-69 win Friday afternoon. "Any time you get a win, you'll take it, but I thought we played a good opponent."
Bryce Cotton led PC (7-1) with a game-high 24 points on 18-of-29 shooting from the foul line and handed out seven assists while Tyler Harris added 16 points before fouling out late. The Friars ended up placing five players in double figures on a day they didn't have the services of sophomore Kris Dunn (recurring shoulder issues). Freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock remain suspended indefinitely.
Kadeem Batts contributed 13 points and eight rebounds while LaDontae Henton finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and five steals.
Fairfield, which trailed by as many as 19 points with 5:59 remaining in the first half, received 23 points from Marcus Gilbert. Maurice Barrow had 20 points.
Playing their first game since competing in the Paradise Jam down in the Virgin Islands earlier in the week, the Friars jumped out to a 10-point lead against the Stags (1-6). PC hit eight straight shots to begin the game, all of the makes coming on the result of layups and strong finishes at the rim.
Just as the Friars seemed on the verge of completely pulling away, the Stags, who netted a season-high point total, made a push. Fairfield held Providence to a single free throw in the final 4:24 of the opening half and started to find some continuity on offense to trail by just 10 points (40-30) at halftime.
The second half started in Fairfield's favor as Coleman Johnson connected on a 15-footer and Barrow made one of two free throws to pull within seven points at 40-33. The Stags would come as close as six points at 44-38 and 46-40, the last of which came after K.J. Rose made a layup at the 14:52 mark.
The Friars answered with a 15-2 run that lasted 5 minutes to regain its 19-point lead at 61-42 with 9:30 on the clock.
The Friars, who shot 54 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, struggled to find the range in the second half, hitting just five of their first 15 shots. Seeing that his team was in need of a spark, Cooley opted to press the Stags full-court while mixing in a zone defense that also proved effective.
Fairfield did mount one more charge to pull within nine points (64-55) with 5 minutes to go, but PC put the game out of reach with eight straight free throws that pushed the advantage back to 15 points at 72-57.
"We definitely played better in the second half," said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson. "I was happy to see that the slow start didn't affect our intensity. They've got to hold their head high for that."
Fairfield ended up shooting 32.6 percent for the game and was out-rebounded 29-24. The Stags went to the free-throw line 24 times as a team while the Friars had 45 attempts from the charity stripe, making 38.
This was the 38th all-time meeting between the two New England schools with Providence holding a 33-5 advantage. The Friars are now 17-2 at home against the Stags.
John Calipari and his third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats next up the Friars.