Providence optimistic ahead of opener vs. Fairfield

NCAA Men's Basketball

Saying Providence College coach Ed Cooley is pumped for the season would be an understatement.

“I am so excited about this year, I’m jumping out of my seat right now,” Cooley said on his weekly radio show in advance of Wednesday’s season opener at home against Fairfield. “I’m so excited with this group. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I like what I see.”

Cooley has several reasons to be excited. The Friars are coming off a 19-12 season, which they ended on a six-game winning streak. Plus, they return two players who landed on the All-Big East preseason teams.

David Duke, an all-conference first-teamer, hit 42.0 percent of his 3-pointers last season to rank fourth in the Big East. The junior guard is Providence’s top returning scorer (12.0 points) and assist man (3.1).

Nate Watson, who averaged 9.0 points and 4.6 rebounds while starting 13 games last season, is a preseason All-Big-East second-team selection. The 6-10, 260-pounder hit 51.1 percent of his shots last season to rank ninth in the conference.

Despite his excitement for his team and the upcoming season, Cooley has had to curb some of his enthusiasm because of how much havoc the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked. Cooley knows that the 2020-21 season is a day-to-day proposition.

“We have to be prepared for anything,” said Cooley, who is 181-122 in his nine seasons with Providence.

“We have to be able to pivot, don’t complain, try to get as many games as we can get in, stay healthy, and let the chips fall where they may. … We’ve just got to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get a game in.”

The Friars will take on a Fairfield squad that went 12-20 in 2019-20. The Stags return two of their top three scorers from last season — guards Jesus Cruz (11.0 points) and Taj Benning (9.8).

Like Cooley, Fairfield coach Jay Young realizes how tenuous a college hoops season during a pandemic could be.

“What I tell the guys is we’re playing basketball,” Young said. “You turn on the news and you see how people are being affected by this. At the end of the day, we’re in a gym, we’re playing basketball and we’re doing what we love. Perspective is a word I use a lot. This season, we’ve just got to keep things in perspective.”

Providence is 33-5 all-time against Fairfield, including a 78-69 win in 2013 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Wednesday’s matchup will be at Alumni Hall, Providence’s on-campus gym, where the Stags are 0-9.

Cooley, who went 92-69 as Fairfield’s coach from 2006-10 before landing at Providence, is going into the campaign with a positive mindset.

“The players have been fun to be around,” said Cooley, whose Friars were picked to finish third in the Big East this season. “We’ve been energetic. We’ve been passionate about our approach. Our team is showing up every day. I’m excited about it. I’m eager to see how this is going to go down.”

–Field Level Media

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