- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - You’ll have to pardon Providence coach Ed Cooley if he doesn’t seemed too panicked about having his top player on the training table days before the 11th-ranked Friars’ biggest home game of the season.

It’s just that his team has been dealing with one health-related issue or another for most of this season.

Cooley said Thursday that starting forward Ben Bentil is day to day after suffering a right ankle injury in Providence’s 77-70 loss at DePaul on Tuesday night. The Big East’s leading scorer entered the game averaging 20.3 points, but was limited to just 14 minutes against the Blue Demons.

“He’s sore, he’s very, very sore,” Cooley said. “Negative X-rays, so that’s a good sign. We’ll see how he is after all the treatments.”

It is horrible timing for the Friars (18-5, 6-4 Big East) as they prepare to host third-ranked Villanova (19-3, 9-1) on Saturday. Providence’s 82-76 overtime victory over the Wildcats last month was their lone conference loss. But the Friars enter Saturday’s matchup just 1-3 in their last four home games.

Bentil’s injury is the latest in a rash of health-related maladies to strike the Providence roster as it continues to battle a conference schedule that has already featured four games against Top 25 teams.

Guard Jalen Lindsey missed the DePaul loss with the flu. Fellow guard Kris Dunn, who is second in the conference in scoring behind Bentil, missed a pair of games earlier this season with an illness. Guard Ryan Fezekas missed six games with mononucleosis, and forward Quadree Smith missed all of last month with a broken hand.

Yet, despite playing most of this season without a full complement of players, the Friars enter Saturday’s game as a top 15 team.

“This team has taken on such a game-by-game approach. Not having Ben and Jalen in the last game is the most different we’ve been,” Cooley said. “Even when Kris was out, we do have a seasoned, basically another point guard, when we don’t have a seasoned big man. We’re already short on size. Ben going out, Jalen going out - we’re a totally different group.”

The most positive sign for the Friars in Bentil’s case is that he has also already dealt with a similar injury this season, having sprained his left ankle on Dec. 9 against Boston College.

He showed incredible recovery time in that case, being able to play in the Friars’ next game against Bryant just three days later. Though he didn’t start that game, he was able to play 25 minutes, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Dunn said he has a lot of trust in his teammates to fill whatever gaps develop.

“What I like about this team, we keep fighting,” he said. “It’s a part of the game of basketball. A lot of adversity is gonna hit any team. It’s just not us. We just gotta keep figuring a way how to win.”

Cooley said he thinks that dealing with these issues in early February will toughen his group for tournament time March.

“You have to prepare your team for the unknown. That’s one of those things that we come back to and draw to,” Cooley said. “Everybody’s injured or hurt right now. Every team has it. The tough ones get through it, and hopefully you’re more mentally tough than physically tough.”

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AP college basketball website: collegebasketball.ap.org

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/khightower

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