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Big East Tournament 2014: St. John's fights back but loses to Providence, 79-74

A stirring comeback was not enough, again.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This is a St. John's team that never says die; but it's also a team that digs itself impressively deep graves. The fight is always something to be proud of as a program and as fans, but the deficits - much like the 0-5 start in the Big East that the Red Storm had to dig out of - have been too much to overcome.

Still, the Johnnies once again found themselves exciting the crowd with a thrill ride after falling down by as much as 17 points. St. John's cut a halftime lead to one with a minute to go with intense trapping late in the second half and the crowd got crazy. But the Johnnies didn't get the right bounce or the right whistle in the last minute, and fell, 79-74.

"I told them to stay in the moment," victorious Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Make sure you don't lose your composure. We were going on runs, they were going on runs. We wanted to make sure we had the last one."

In a Big East Tournament already filled with cardiac finishes and exciting storylines, St. John's/ Providence - the most anticipated of the day's matchup - turned out to be a bubble-popping dud for the Red Storm. The Johnnies fall to 20-12, and most likely fall out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. Even if the head coach sees hope.

"We didn't help our cause losing today," Lavin said in regards to the NCAA Tournament. "But I don't think today was a play-in game, for either team."

[Box score | Game thread]

With the path to the championship made possibly easier by resurgent Seton Hall's defeat of Villanova, St. John's were handled on the glass and sliced up by the three-pointer for much of the game.

There are no tomorrows for St. John's, just their body of work, including today's loss.

In a year where the NCAA Tournament was an expectation and a run in the Tournament wouldn't be out of the question, the veteran Red Storm now wait to see who they will (hopefully) host in the NIT.

Steve Lavin, dejected, said, "I was proud of our team's collective effort against Cotton and the way we fought back. We've seen that all year."

A taut game was lost in a flurry of Providence offense. First, it was points in the paint, with the Friars getting second chance opportunities early in the half and converting them with layups. After a St. John's time out, the interior was closed; so the Friars turned to Josh Fortune.

Fortune, playing the game of his life, deposited eight straight points while the Johnnies were once again searching for the stroke on the long jump shot. He extended the lead to 50-37, eliciting another timeout. But the damage was done. Much as it was in the first Xavier game, the Johnnies started the second half digging a hole they couldn't scratch and press their way out of in the must-win game.

St. John's held Bryce Cotton to 12 points, but Providence was led by Josh Fortune's 24 and LaDontae Henton's 16 points and 11 rebounds. Kadeem Batts added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

D`Angelo Harrison scored 21 and added 10 rebounds. Rysheed Jordan had 17 points, and JaKarr Sampson had 15. Orlando Sanchez played heavy minutes for the foul-saddled Chris Obekpa, and posted eight points and 12 rebounds. Jamal Branch had 9.

In the first half, eight straight points by Jordan seemed to right the ship for St. John's; he and JaKarr Sampson carried the scoring in a sluggish first half for both teams, one which saw three Providence players (Tyler Harris, scoring star Bryce Cotton and Josh Fortune) all pick up three fouls, along with St. John's Chris Obekpa.

St. John's got to the line frequently (FTR: 48%), but missed seven of their 14 free throw attempts. On the afternoon, SJU shot 13/26 from the line, 50%. The Red Storm also gave up 16 offensive rebounds - six each to Henton and Tyler Harris, who added six points as well.

Carson Desrosiers played 24 minutes in relief of the foul-plagued Friars, scoring eight points, four blocks, 10 rebounds.

Chris Obekpa played two minutes in the game, but had three personal fouls.

The NIT selection is on Sunday, after the NCAA selection show.