It was a look-back-to-the-future type of game. Two schools with a history of playing each other, each at similar stages of rebuilding. Only two in-state schools (Rhode Island and Brown) have faced Providence more than Boston College. Saturday’s game was the 107th meeting between the two schools in a rivalry which dates back to 1942.
In the good old days of a decade ago, Providence vs. Boston College was part of the fabric of college basketball in New England. Just like a BC-UConn or a BC-Syracuse meeting would raise the intensity in a place which has jokingly been labeled the Conte Morgue for most games other than when Duke or North Carolina is part of the match-up.
Those days, of course, are gone as conference expansion and reconfiguration, fed more by greed than any other factor, wiped out things such as rivalries based on geography rather than television market ratings.
Which is why what happened on Saturday was an unexpected gift. In a game in which both teams showed glimpses of the future they hope to have, Boston College outlasted Providence 71-68. It was tightly contested, and, for the most part, well-played.
“Neither team could shake the other,” said BC coach Steve Donahue, who is in middle of his third year of reconstructing the Eagles into an NCAA tournament caliber program
A small irony on Saturday was that Providence coach Ed Cooley, who is in the second year of his rebuilding plan of turning PC into an NCAA tournament caliber program, had tried to sit in the chair that Donahue now occupies.
When former BC Director of Athletics Gene DeFilippo fired Al Skinner three years ago, Cooley, a former Skinner assistant, then coaching at Fairfield, applied for the position. DeFilippo, hesitant to have any linkage with Skinner, passed on both Cooley and Northeastern coach Billy Coen, another former Skinner assistant, and hired Donahue from Cornell.
Cooley, who had five productive seasons at Fairfield before the Friars hired him two years ago, came back to Conte Forum on Saturday with a sense of detachment. It was just another road game against a team the Friars needed to beat to give them a cushion as they move into the Big East portion of their schedule.
In many ways BC and PC are mirror image programs. Both were picked to finish near or at the bottom of their conferences. BC is still a freshmen and sophomore dominated team.
Cooley, using a mixture or recruitment and transfers, may have a better team not playing right now than the one that lost to BC on Saturday.
In PC’s first nine games, Cooley had seven or fewer players. Injuries to players like point guard Vincent Council (leg) as well as eligibility problems which will keep another blue chip recruit such as 6-foot-7 inch guard Ricky Ledo ineligible until next season, have also limited what Cooley can do.
“There are times when I was literally looking for any body I could find,” said Cooley with a shrug and a smile. “And I mean anyone, manager, someone in the band. Anyone.”
Despite that, Providence still has won 8 of its first 11 games, but needs all the padding it can find before it begins its Big East schedule in January.
It didn’t get it on Saturday because BC played better for a longer period than the Friars. Led by forward Ryan Anderson’s 24 points and 7 rebounds and guard Oliver Hanlan’s 17 points and 12 rebounds, the Eagles did what the Eagles seldom have done under Donahue: played 40 minutes of competitive basketball in a 40 minute game.
“We need to be great with the ball to win,” said Donahue, who saw his team come up with a season-low of 8 turnovers.”” We were great with the ball today.”
The Eagles were, at the very least, very good with the ball and they won, delighting the majority of the crowd of 6,102, who saw a glimpse of not only the past, but the future.
Whether it gets better quicker for either BC or PC still has yet to be determined. But for BC it was another small step in the right direction.
But it was also something else. An old fashioned rivalry game, which hasn’t happened very much at The Heights in the past few years.
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.