By Josh Adams
New York- Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley looked proud in the press room at Madison Square Garden surrounded by his players after his team upset St. John’s on Saturday afternoon. His team played beyond how he had hoped. Cooley’s Friars teams usual calling card is all about physical defense, rebounds and timely shooting. Today had all three. If you wanted to paint a perfect Friars-type victory on canvas, today’s game would be the portrait.
There was more to this win today then just breaking a three game losing streak for Providence. It was a win in Madison Square Garden, a building that Cooley remarked about postgame, “Anytime you win a game here, you feel like you hit the lottery.” It was a game that saw the emergence of Nate Watson scoring 18 points for the Friars in the win. It had the usual reliable Alpha Diallo contributing 10 points and 15 rebounds. The game wasn’t pretty by highlight standards (aside from Providence’s David Duke Jr.’s dunk in the first half that was spectacular) but the Friars slowed down the high-octane Red Storm offense and had them play their type of grind it out game.
Cooley won a Big East Tournament Championship with this kind of team but the players and Cooley desperately needed a mid-season reset. As he searched for what would snap them out of this three game malaise that gripped the Friars and threatened to sink their season it was the counsel of Cooley’s son that he found what would be his mantra going forward. “My son had a heart to heart with me.” said Cooley, “He said Dad you’re not coaching with love. You’re coaching angry, you’re frustrated.” What he realized after that conversation was he had to lift his foot off the pedal and look at the bigger picture. He found gratitude in the position his team was in. “Today was one of the most joyous years I’ve ever had in coaching in thirteen years.” said Cooley after the game, “I have to take accountability of my anger and frustration. I told our players in the locker room to just go have fun today. No one expects much off us. Let’s go have some fun.” The players responded to Cooley with giving his team a vintage Friars performance. In easing up Cooley remarked that he saw his team play, “With love, with character, with energy but most importantly with joy.”
It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when your team is in a losing streak but as Watson, Diallo, Cooley and Maliek White crowded around the dais in the press room the players echoed Cooley’s sentiment. It’s life lessons that you learn sometimes in front of 16,000 people at Madison Square Garden and sometimes in a conversation between a father and a son. It was the lesson of letting go and having fun and trusting each other and it will all work out. Providence may not go undefeated for the rest of the year, hard times might emerge again but with a core of family, teammates and a gratitude of winning on one of basketball’s biggest stages today, the Friars and Cooley have found their joy again. As Cooley got on the team bus back to Providence, he turned back to the well-wishers who were gathered there and smiled and said, “Hey, did we win today or what?”