Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE
St. John's needed a big road win at Providence, but fell short in the hostile Dunkin Donuts Center.
As a Sir`Dominic Pointer running prayer came up short, as did St. John's on Saturday night.
Big East leading scorer Bryce Cotton led the way for the Friars with 24 points, as forward Kadeem Batts added 15 points. JaKarr Sampson paced St. John's in the losing effort with 22 points on 9-20 shooting.
St. John's and Providence both came out with incredibly high energy, each showing off its high-flying athleticism. The Johnnies got out to a quick 6-0 lead, but the Friars matched their momentum.
Providence scored six of its first ten points on second opportunities as they grabbed five offensive rebounds in eight chances.
Many wondered how the Red Storm would react in its first game without newly suspended D`Angelo Harrison. Without its leading scorer, St. John's had to generate points by committee. In the first nine minutes, each St. John's player that had seen time on the floor attempted at least one shot.
"We've had a couple good days of practice since D'Angelo's suspension," Steve Lavin said. "We just wanted to find some high percentage shots. Because we've recruited so well over these past two years, I was confident enough that there would be enough players there that would provide production."
In fact, Felix Balamou and Christian Jones both saw significant time in this game. Neither of them saw the floor much in February.
St. John's seemed more cohesive on the offensive end in the first half, likely thanks to the reemergence of Jamal Branch into the rotation. As some mentioned, the Johnnies had some of their best passing before halftime that they've had all season.
The Red Storm extended its lead to 25-17 before the Friars got back into it. A 7-0 run capped by a Bryce Cotton three-pointer got the Dunkin Donuts Center crowd going, and cut the deficit to 25-24. St. John's led, 27-26, at half.
As the second half started, Providence had plenty of opportunities to pull away from St. John's. But ice cold Friar shooting from behind the arc kept the Johnnies ahead.
But cold shooting was a common theme on both sides. With 16 minutes left in the game, Providence was shooting 15% from three-point range, while St. John's was yet to convert from deep.
St. John's relinquished its lead at the 13-minute mark when Providence senior guard Vincent Council hit a three, giving the Friars a 39-37 advantage.
As they did at the end of the first half, Providence continued to ramp up its zone defense, forcing St. John's into a number of confused, empty possessions. But a mini 6-0 spurt gave the Johnnies a three-point lead with 7:52 left, when Jamal Branch dropped to the floor clenching his leg. He re-entered the game with 1:45 left.
As Providence converted on a few buckets, the Dunk became loud as fans rose to their feet. But, as they had all night up until that point, St. John's halted the Friars' bid for sustained momentum with Sampson and Greene baskets, and took a 51-50 lead into a 6:12 timeout.
"I'm proud of our players. I thought they competed well," Steve Lavin said afterwards. "It's so difficult to win on the road in the Big East. There's a razor-thin margin for error."
Bryce Cotton made a three-pointer as he was fouled to give Providence the lead back (57-55) with 3:46 to play. Another Cotton jumper with just over two minutes left gave the Friars its largest lead to that point.
"[Cotton] did what he does. He has that gun-slinging mentality, like an Eddie House," Lavin continued. "He's a special player. Even if you contain him for a stretch, he's always about to start tickling the twine."
Sir'Dom Pointer contributed 13 points along with a stellar 14 rebounds for the Johnnies. Phil Greene IV also scored ten points.
Providence shot just 7-23 from three-point range for the game, but made a few down the stretch when it counted. They shot 37.3% overall, only slightly better than St. John's (36.8%).
"It was a great Big East battle between two teams that mirror each other," Lavin mentioned. "Ed Cooley is the coach of the year in my opinion. It's so difficult to bring a team back from the ashes as he has. They're the hottest team in our league other than Georgetown."
The loss diminishes the Red Storm's chances at earning an NCAA Tournament bid to near-zero. Projections say that St. John's will likely have to win its two remaining games against Notre Dame and Marquette to give themselves any legitimate hope.
St. John's will have a quick turnaround for its next game, as they will travel to South Bend, Indiana for a Tuesday night rematch with Notre Dame.
Felix Balamou was energetic, once blocking a shot and immediately leaking out to receive the pass in transition for an easy layup. But he showed his rawness, losing a defensive rebound from his hands and fouling Bryce Cotton on a three with 3:44 left in the game.
After a Chris Obekpa dunk, the Johnnies went 0/8 from the field over the last four minutes of play.
Jamal Branch went to the floor with an injury in the middle of the second half, but came back for a possession in the waning minutes and was on the floor at the end of the game.