PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - There are worst ways for the Providence Friars to head into next Saturday's New England showdown with 22nd-ranked Massachusetts.
Led by 22 points apiece from seniors Kadeem Batts and Bryce Cotton, Providence rolled to a 94-70 victory over Maine on Saturday. The Friars (10-2) will now take a week off before venturing to UMass for a contest against the Minutemen, who fell from the unbeaten ranks after dropping a 60-55 decision to Florida State.
The UMass-Florida State contest went final just as Providence head coach Ed Cooley stepped to the podium to discuss his team's latest victory and look ahead to what will be the Friars' final nonconference test. Providence begins Big East play on New Year's Eve at home against Seton Hall.
''It's a New England game and the Mullins Center is a great environment to play in,'' said Cooley. ''We're going to have to be disciplined and stubborn on offense and really, really gritty defensively.''
Said Batts, ''Big games like that, those are the ones that myself and I know other guys on the team die for. It's a big opportunity.''
A fifth-year senior, Batts notched the 1,000th point of his college career on a slam dunk in the first half. He joins Cotton and junior LaDontae Henton as current members of PC's 1,000-point club.
''I'm very happy for Kadeem. He had a great week of practice and had great carryover,'' said Cooley.
Zarko Valjarevic led Maine (1-9) with 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point territory while Xavier Pollard added 15 points and five rebounds.
The Friars (10-2) had five players in double figures. Tyler Harris finished with 18 points and six rebounds while Henton and Josh Fortune each scored 10 points.
The Black Bears hung tough with the Friars early before Providence closed the first half on a 27-7 run that featured Cotton connecting from beyond the arc and Batts asserting his will down low. Cotton ended up hitting five 3s, all in the opening 20 minutes.
Maine trailed 56-33 at halftime and trailed by as many as 31 points with 9:53 to play. Providence finished with more offensive rebounds (22) than the Bears had total rebounds (23). Maine, which does not own a win against a Division I school, ended up shooting 50.9 percent.
''We've got to slow people down and finish off the possessions,'' said Maine head coach Ted Woodward. ''Rebounding has been a game-to-game theme that we're trying to solve, but hopefully that's something we can fix before we get into our league.''
Based in the America East, the Black Bears have played two games against Atlantic 10 schools (Rhode Island, George Washington) and one against 10th-ranked Connecticut. After seeing Providence, Woodward believes the Friars are as talented a team his club will face this winter.
''Any time you play a team at this level, it's always a challenge. You need to keep possessions on your side. You can't give them 20 extra possessions,'' said Woodward. ''Size-wise, PC is big and athletic. Their guards have the ability to make plays. Ed has done a great job with his team. They are very well organized.''
Providence has won 33 straight home games against nonconference opponents. The Friars played their 12th straight game without freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock. Both remain suspended.