St. John's vs Providence final: Red Storm boat race Friars for a half, hang on for 86-76 win

Sampson and Jordan led a strong first-half offensive effort. - Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

St. John's looked like the personification of Steve Lavin's "peaking in February" and "incremental growth" mantras.

For a half.

A scoring burst by Bryce Cotton - who scored 32 points in the game - and missed shots by St. John's cut deeply into the 23 point lead. But defensive pressure and some timely plays kept St. John's on the winning track with a 86-76 win.

St. John's (14-9, 4-6 Big East) has a rematch against top-15 ranked Creighton Bluejays in Madison Square Garden on Sunday night - the first of two straight Sunday night games - on Feb. 9. Providence (16-7, 6-4) travels to Cincinnati to face Xavier on Saturday.

St. John's are winners of five games out of six after an 0-5 Big East start (a non-conference game against Dartmouth was sprinkled in the schedule).

[Box score | Game thread]

It may be late in the season - and St. John's needs to add more W's to their ledger before the team and its fans can seriously think about NCAA Tournament hopes - but even those who have written off the Johnnies had to take notice of their play tonight.

Playing fast, loose and confident, the Red Storm "boat raced" the Providence Friars in the first half.

Rysheed Jordan found gaps and made passes - finishing with 13 points and five assists in the half, and JaKarr Sampson was energetic to loose balls and confident in his jump shot. He had 15 in the half, and 21 for the game.

The Red Storm shot 71% inside the arc, 50% outside the arc, had one turnover - which adds up to a 1.61 point-per-possession half. that figure marks the most efficient half of basketball for the team - the epitome of "peaking."

As good as the Johnnies were on offense - an incredible output of 44 points in 27 possessions - the Friars steadily found their shots all game, and improved their defense to make it a real game in the second half.

A 19-2 run brought the Friars within single digits. That run was all Bryce Cotton - he scored 14 points in that stretch and the Friars had a 16-0 run broken up by Chris Obekpa.

D`Angelo Harrison (a team-high 22 points) - who had sat out a chunk of the run with foul trouble - came back in to steady the Red Storm. The defense held, and Harrison made free throws late to maintain the Red Storm lead.

At 4-6 in conference, the team is showing signs of life - but are the signs too late? They have one of their best chances for a marquee win this Sunday against the Bluejays, who they almost battled back to defeat on January 28... they were foiled by Doug McDermott's game-winner.

Game notes

Carson Desrosiers and Sir`Dominic Pointer picked up technical fouls after a hard foul by Desrosiers late. Pointer tried a baseline dunk.

Providence cut the lead to six during their 19-2 run, and cut the lead to five points in the last minute.

Rysheed Jordan finished with 18 points and five assists. Chris Obekpa had 10 points and five total rebounds, looking more a part of the offense than he has in the past.

Kadeem Batts added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Friars. Josh Fortune added 12, LaDontae Henton chipped in 10 points.

Providence had 20 offensive rebounds, grabbing 49% of their misses in the game.

St. John's committed only five turnovers - four in the second half. All four of those turnovers were part St. John's seven-minute scoring drought. In the first half, the Red Storm's assist-to-turnover ratio was 9/1.

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