It hasn't been an easy season for the Providence High boys' basketball team.
Coming into their game against Butler on Feb. 3, the Panthers had won only two games since beating Hopewell, 65-61, in the season opener.
But Providence has a reason to believe things will get better. Two, actually: junior guard Chris Rieger and sophomore point guard Giavonni Mack.
Rieger (12.3 points per game) and Mack (15.1) are the team's top scorers and the core of a program that has struggled with youth and inexperience over the last two seasons.
"I can lean on them to show the other guys what to do and how to do it," said Myron Lowery, who is in his ninth season as coach at Providence. "It gives you hope for the years to come."
The Panthers won the Southwestern 4A conference two years ago but lost the top four scorers that year to graduation. Last year, the team had six seniors, but most had been role players. The Panthers, with Mack and Rieger in their first year on varsity, were 4-21.
The players worked hard over the summer, finishing third at their team camp. Rieger said the team felt good after the opening win, but then lost the next eight games.
Lowery said Providence's record isn't due to lack of hard work. The Panthers have good chemistry and do what coaches ask in practice. But with Rieger, a guard, their tallest player, at 6-foot-1, and Mack at 5-foot-8, Providence struggles to match up with taller, more athletic teams.
"I don't think the wins and losses actually prove how much we work at our game and the chemistry we have," said Rieger, 17, whose twin sister, Casey, helped the Providence volleyball team win a state title this year. "You always have to have all the right pieces to be a winning team. I feel like we're just missing a couple of pieces."
Despite the losing record, there have been bright spots this season for Rieger and Mack.
In the season opener, Rieger scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Rieger, who has missed only one game this season despite separating his shoulder and having minor ankle sprains, is "leading the whole team in our evaluation system," Lowery said. "He will play hard and will go down on the floor for balls."
Mack scored 28 points against Rocky River, 30 against Rock Hill Northwestern and a season-high 40 in a loss to Myers Park last week.
"He can wow you," said Lowery, who called Mack a "gym rat."
"He wants to be better, so that makes him easy to coach."
Providence has been close in many of their conference games, losing to Butler by just nine points Jan. 6 and having a 10-point lead against Ardrey Kell at halftime Jan. 13 before scoring just five points in the second half to lose by 13.
"A lot of games have come down to execution," Rieger said. "We would be in the whole game and there would be a stretch where we let it get away."
While the players are frustrated by the losses, the Panthers have tried to use them as motivation.
"Every loss that we've had has hurt a lot," said Mack, 16. "The next day at practice, people are going harder. Over the weekend, some guys on other teams are out going to the mall. Most of our guys are in the gym working out and getting ready for the next week."
It's that work ethic and the desire to get better that give Rieger, Mack and Lowery hope for the Providence program.
"I know we've struggled a lot this year, but as the season has gone on I feel like we've learned each other's strengths and weaknesses. I like this team a lot," Mack said. "I'm excited for next year."