- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - An 11-2 start, consecutive wins against ranked teams and the nation’s second highest scorer couldn’t save Keno Davis’ job as men’s basketball coach at Providence College.

Davis, whose Friars struggled to compete in the tough Big East, was fired Friday after three seasons.

Athletic director Bob Driscoll made the announcement three days after they lost to Marquette, 87-66, in the first round of the Big East tournament, ending their season at 15-17. They were 4-14 in the Big East for the second straight year and finished 14th in the conference.

“There’s no question we can be in the top half of the Big East,” Driscoll said, “and if you’re in the top half of the Big East, you’re in the NCAA tournament. So it’s absolutely doable with the right leadership and the right kind of support.”

The Friars didn’t come close to the top half the past two seasons.

In Davis‘ first season, they were 19-14 overall and 10-8 in the conference with an NIT appearance. But since then, they were 27-36 and 8-28 for overall records of 46-50 and 18-36. This season they lost eight of their last nine games.

And now senior guard Marshon Brooks, who averaged 24.2 points per game, “is probably going to the NBA and the kids coming in probably aren’t as good,” Driscoll said, “so it just felt like it was stalling and going backwards a bit.”

Providence is 1-6 in the NCAA tournament under five coaches in the last 24 years since reaching the Final Four in 1987 under Rick Pitino where they lost to Syracuse 77-63.

Rev. Brian J. Shanley, the school’s president since Feb. 1, 2005, is committed to changing that, Driscoll said.

“We’re in a unique time here in Providence,” Driscoll said. “It’s going to be a hard battle because we have such a tough league. I have a president that understands the value of a successful basketball program to fundraising, admissions, the branding, and I’m not sure that was always the case.”

Driscoll said some potential replacements for Davis will be coaching in the NCAA and NIT tournaments so he wants to be “very deliberate because it’s such an important hire.”

Davis, who turned 39 on Thursday, came to Providence in 2008-09 after his only other season as a head coach in which he led Drake to a 28-5 record and was named coach of the year by The Associated Press. He had spent the previous four seasons as an assistant at Drake under his father, Tom Davis.

But at Providence, “I just didn’t feel as though we were attracting the kind of kids that could compete in the Big East,” Driscoll said. “It’s a big difference from Drake, and whether we could create the culture, a warrior ethos if you will, to go out there and do battle every night in this tough conference, this is a tough place to kind of be learning on the job.”

Providence got off to an impressive start this season with 11 wins in 13 games, although it lost the only Big East game in that stretch. Then came six consecutive losses in conference play before the Friars showed signs that they were turning around their season.

For the first time in 12 years, they beat two Top 25 teams in consecutive games _ 72-67 over then No. 19 Louisville on Jan. 22 and 83-68 over No. 8 Villanova on Jan. 26, both in Providence. But they couldn’t sustain that surge.

They lost 81-71 at Seton Hall. Then, after returning home for a 68-63 win over South Florida, the Friars dropped seven straight games. In one of those losses, 94-93 to No. 9 Notre Dame on Feb. 23, Brooks scored a Big East record 52 points at home.

They did follow that losing streak by edging Rutgers 75-74 in Providence in their regular-season finale.

But then came the conference tournament, and the Friars came out flat against Marquette. They missed their first 11 field goal attempts and fell behind 17-0 before Brooks sank a drive 5:31 into the game.

“Stunned would be a fitting word to describe the start,” Davis said after the game.

Providence has reached the NCAA tournament just twice since 1997-98, losing in the first round under Tim Welsh in 2000-01 and 2003-04.

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