This one hurts a lot.
There is no denying it. Waking up today we all have an empty feeling in our stomach, and it doesn't take long to figure out what it is.
We've lost tough games before, and hey, its part of the deal. I've had this feeling before. We lost twice in the MAAC Tournament when we knew winning it all would send us to the NCAA Tournament. We've lost heartbreakers in the Big East Tournament as well, losing 3 of those games by one point. We lost at home to Maine with a team that would go on to make the NCAA Tournament.
But we never lost to URI. Not at Iona, not at Providence. Six times we played them, in New Rochelle, Keaney Gym and at the Civic Center now called the Dunk. Six times we came out on top.
Saturday, URI got us. And now it is hard to know how to feel - other than sick.
We were very disturbed by the way we came out in the first half against Vermont, and Coach was pretty clear about that at halftime of that game. He continued to hammer the point home on Thursday and Friday in practice - great teams are ready to play, no matter who you are playing.
We were happy with the way our guys responded in the second half of that game, and we continued to get better at practice on Thursday and Friday. We knew Saturday would be a different atmosphere than our other games so far, and as much as you prepare for it you really do not know how your team will respond until they are in that situation.
I felt like Saturday's game was really lost in the first half. I know we came back to tie it late - how about the freshman stepping up and burying that shot? - and we were an in-and-out lay-up from going to overtime, but I was really disappointed that we let them off the mat in the first half.
We came out with great energy and jumped on them from the get go, but we knew how scrappy and tough they were and that they would never quit. We continued to get very good looks at the hoop even after we were up 15-2 and 18-6, but we allowed them some run-outs and some drives to the basket that got them settled down.
Still, we stayed in control of the game and had a 7-point lead with about 5 minutes left to go in the half, and that is when I felt there were some really big possessions. At that point if we closed the half out strong we could have had a 10-12 point lead and been in control of the game. However, with a strong finish for them they could narrow the gap and head into halftime with a lot of momentum.
Steve Mello hit a really big shot at the shot clock horn after we had a good defensive possession, and then we had a couple of careless turnovers and quick shots that lead to some fast breaks for URI. We had an over the back foul that put them on the free throw line without even having possession of the ball. When the first 20 minutes were up we had just a four point lead and they felt very good having battled back from down 15-2 just 5 minutes into the game.
We were up four, but for some reason at halftime it felt like we were down 10. We just knew the second half was going to be a slugfest, but it shouldn't have been that way. We had our chances to take control of the game in the first half and we didn't.
The second half was a great battle and you just knew it was going to come down to someone making a play at the end. Brian Woodward made a tough move and our weakside rotations were late. Sheiku Kabba made a great move to get an almost uncontested four-footer, it just didn't go down. I can't imagine getting a better shot in that situation, it just didn't go down.
When I was talking to Dave Ryan of ESPN before the game yesterday, he asked about the crowd that was expected. I told him I thought it would be near a sell-out, probably 12,000 or so. He made a comment to me that made me think - he said, "This is one of those big rivalry games - rivalries are supposed to be unconditional." It really made me think a little bit about the PC-URI game.
When we first got here, it was the one game the people around school seemed to talk about. Our first PC-URI game, which was also our first win at Providence, was unbelievable. Sellout crowd, incredibly loud arena, ranked team going down. It was an incredible atmosphere.
Since that day, for the last four years, each team has hosted the game twice, and the game has not been sold out. That really surprises me. I have a good friend who told me when we first got into town, "The only thing I'll request is tickets to the URI game when it is not our home game." He made it sound as if you couldn't get a ticket. Well, for the last four years, anybody can get a ticket by just walking up to the gate five minutes before tip-off.
I don't want this to sound like a slight to our fans or URI fans at all. There are a million different reasons not to go to a game these days, and I'm a big believer that consistent winning brings fans to the arena, no matter what the sport is. But when this game is talked about as a big rivalry, it kind of makes me think. How many big rivalries in sports are there that have tickets available just prior to tip-off? As Dave Ryan said, rivalries are supposed to be unconditional. So many people have been involved in this game for so long, from fans to coaches to administrators to staff to players. Do you think any of them would have imagined this game not being sold out for four straight years?
Now we have 12 days to chew on this one before we get to tee it up again. We will learn from this game and get better from it, but we won't dwell on it. I'm always amazed at the energy Coach Welsh can bring to the table after tough losses - we take what we need to from the game, improve on it and then bury it. I know he'll make sure we do the same with this one.
But it would certainly be nice to get out on the floor in the next few days and compete again.