The Red Storm defeat the Providence Friars at Carnesecca Arena. St. John's improves to 10-12, 4-7 Big East. Providence falls to 13-10, 4-7 Big East.
Unbelievably, the Red Storm just played a game I would want to watch if I wasn’t a partisan. The team won its third in a row, beating the Providence Frairs at home with a solid beginning, and a come back in the second half when the Friars stopped turning the ball over and started getting… efficient. The come back left the active home crowd at Carnesecca Arena quieter, but when the Storm got their stops and started making those two point plays, the fans got louder and louder—it was like a real college game or something. Cheers! Defense! "Airball" chants! A capacity crowd!
Granted, Providence College is a team that has struggled in Big East play, and this was the kind of game that must get the Fire Tim Welsh people in full throat, and leave the fans wondering if they are going to win another game in the Big East.
But with a couple more games like this, and perhaps a victory over Marquette/ West Virginia/ or Duke (HAHAH), the Fire Norm Roberts people will have to slink back for a hot minute. Is Roberts the right guy? I don’t know. But the team has looked more competitive and cohesive on offense, less confused on defense, and freshman Sean Evans—who was generally regarded as a "who?" or an extreme project in recruiting circles—was impressive for a freshman. He still was beaten off the dribble a few times, and he’ll draw some dumb fouls, but he was just what the team needed, a competitive rebounder and finisher inside.
Without Anthony Mason Jr., the team leaned on Evans and Larry Wright for point production. Wright was excellent, getting into the paint for shots and hitting threes. Eugene Lawrence started next to freshman point Malik Boothe (Rosedale) and they produced well together—Boothe had 6 points and 6 assists, and a big rebound ripped from the 6’11" Randall Hanke. Lawrence had 4 steals and ripped the ball away from a Friar ball handler at one point. He also hit a circus-shot 3-pointer in the final minutes to preserve the lead.
Burrell’s scoring wasn’t as efficient as one might like but I loved watching his passing game develop with an inside pass to Evans and another pass that drew foul shots. Kennedy played decent defense.
Interiors? The Friars went to Hanke and the Johnnies got in his way. He ended with 16 points on 7-12 shooting, but he was well-defensed in the beginning. Hanke blocked 4 shots. McDermott passed from inside but didn’t get into a scoring rhythm (which is common); Burrell played well against the double teams from Hanke, McDermott and Burch and Alex Kellogg (yes, he's Clark Kellogg’s son) . Sean Evans was a great equalizer, scoring on close shots and taking a few attempts at the basket, making Burrell’s game easier.
Interiors II? Evans cleaned the glass well, and had 5 offensive rebounds. They kept the Friars off of their offensive glass. Between the rebounds and the turnovers, St. John’s has 12 more shot attempts than the Friars, making up for the field goal percentage discrepancy. Jasiulionis picked up quick fouls in his usual jumpy way; if he stayed on his feet, he would have better defensive results.
Keep the Ball and the Feet Moving? This was one of the best-looking offensive games for the Red Storm. They passed well, Boothe penetrated well. They looked mediocre against the zone defense, which is an improvement over "utterly confused", as they looked in earlier games. There were some questionable possessions, but they moved on both ends of the floor. Providence attempted 3 fewer free throws, and had 7 more turnovers. St. John’s had 16 assists and some good fast break opportunities.
Tim Welsh was talking about shot clock issues, and the improbability of Lawrence’s late three-pointer… that’s the kind of talk that comes from a desperate coach. After all, Tim Welsh has moved to the top of the list of coaches to be fired in the Big East this year. And Norm Roberts, with his youth showing some signs of progress against the weaker teams in the league, might be coaching St. John’s University beyond this year. The progress will be tested against an improving Cincinnati team this Wednesday, and against Villanova next weekend.
In the Media (After the Jump):
When losses were piling up, no St. John's player bore more blame than senior point guard Eugene Lawrence. Miscues and blown assignments by the Red Storm's eight freshmen were written off to inexperience. Lawrence's errors brought venom from the Johnnies' souring fan base.
Today the fans might be warming to the Red Storm, and St. John's might be back in the hunt for a postseason berth. And they have Lawrence to thank for it.
With the Johnnies up two against Providence in the final minute, and with the shot clock about to expire, Lawrence sank a high-arcing three-pointer in traffic. It was the signature moment in a dramatic finish to their 64-62 Big East victory at Carnesecca Arena.
"Lawrence threw up a Chris Mullin shot at the end of the shot clock," Providence coach Tim Welsh said.
"Stuff like that only happens in the movies," Lawrence said.
"Eugene Lawrence by far deserves that. He deserves to make that shot," Storm coach Norm Roberts said. "He's been one of the toughest kids I've ever coached in my life. He's tough. He takes a lot of heat and he comes back stronger every day. I'm really happy for him.
"He takes people yelling negative things at him. Whatever it is, he fights through it."
Eugene Lawrence, more through grit and determination than flat-out great talent, has bled every ounce of his will and heart in trying to restore St. John's to prominence.
Finally, he has his signature moment.
What better way for St. John's to improve its record in the campus gym to 400-74. Coach Norm Roberts thought it was poetic that the honor fell to his first recruit and only senior. "Eugene Lawrence deserves to make that shot," Roberts said. "He's one of the toughest kids I've ever coached. He takes a lot of heat and comes back strong the next day."
Lawrence appeared to be the least excited person in the building. Was that the biggest shot of his college career? "I think," he said, "I have more games to play."
The Friars’ chances of returning to the Big Apple when the Big East’s top 12 teams gather at Madison Square Garden next month took a hearty body blow yesterday after a 64-62 loss to lowly St. John’s. PC has lost five of six games, while the Red Storm have won three straight. The teams are now tied at 4-7 and fighting for one of the final tickets to the Garden.
This is the second straight road game the Friars could have (should have) nailed down. After letting an upset of Notre Dame slip away in the final minute, this time PC watched the youngest team in the conference snatch a win from its clutches over the final eight minutes….
"Same story, different game," said PC forward Geoff McDermott. "We were getting shots we wanted but then the offense went a little stagnant and we missed a couple of easy ones. That hurts you on the road."
This was the type of game a veteran-laden PC team is supposed to win. After playing a turnover-filled (10) first half and trailing at the break, 32-27, the Friars regrouped and knocked the Red Storm down through the first 12 minutes of the second half. An 11-0 PC run early on gave the Friars a 41-39 lead and some stingy defense and continued strong offense where the Friars made 12 of their first 15 second-half shots combined to bump the lead to 57-50.
But with the game on the line, a Red Storm team that starts four freshmen and used seven first-year players in the game got the job done. SJU improved to 10-12 and played before a season-high 5,868 crowd at the on-campus arena.
Providence Journal Notes: Jeff Xavier Injured, Providence Coach complains about officiating.
Providence Journal Hoops Blog on booing Coach Tim Welsh and his chances of staying.