St. John's opened up Big East play with a game where the issues of depth and better competition loomed large for Chris Mullin’s squad in a blowout loss. The Johnnies fell to the Providence Friars, 94-72, who used a barrage of threes to take control of the game.
This game should not be a referendum on the team's style or coaching, but rather on the depth St. John’s does not have.
Facing a Providence squad that has struggled in the non-conference, St. John's came out solidly despite falling for some pump fakes - one of which sent forward Tariq Owens to the bench with two fouls in the second half. Still, the Red Storm got strong minutes from Kassoum Yakwe on both ends of the floor.
St. John's enjoyed a moment of hoops clarity, gaining a six-point lead late in the second half, where the Red Storm seemed to find a groove. But coming out of a time out, two three-pointers from Jalen Lindsey and one from New York wing Alpha Diallo swung the game back to the see-saw game that fans had watched for nearly 20 minutes, beginning to worry.
Rodney Bullock hit a short jumper in the paint to take a lead at the 18-minute mark in the second half, and the Friars didn't look back.
A 13-3 run over three minutes in the middle of the second half gave the Friars a 10-point lead, with the Red Storm looking gassed as they scrambled to disrupt the Providence attack. Kyron Cartwright hit three three-pointers in that time, and Jalen Lindsey, who had scored 12 in the first half from outside the arc, added another. (Nate Watson added a free throw.)
As the Red Storm scrambled to keep up defensively, the Friars took advantage of the open spaces effectively, pushing the advantage to 19. The game looked like a game from last year or the year before, where Chris Mullin's team, when losing, becomes a defensive sieve.
The game was lost on turnovers - the Red Storm didn't force many early - and also on not running the Friars away from comfortable corner jumpers beyond the three-point line.
The Friars shot 16/30 from outside the arc, and only had 10 turnovers, 14% of possessions - which is quite uncharacteristic for a St. John’s opponent.
Much of that defensive malaise comes from the possible injury of Shamorie Ponds, who sat out the last nine minutes; he seemed to get hurt late in the first half, but played through it. He was less dynamic on the floor with his drives, and perhaps a little slower on defense.
But Marcus LoVett's injury looms large. The defensive pest and outside shooter is needed against Big East players. He was in street clothes tonight, and against this level of opponent, the Red Storm need him to step up - even as Bashir Ahmed plays well and Marvin Clark II uses his full toolset to score.
Clark led the team with 20 points, and Ponds added 16, while Ahmed added 12. Ahmed and Ponds each had only two points in the second half.
Providence received 21 from Kyron Cartwright and 15 assists. Rodney Bullock scored 20, 16 in the blowout second half. Jalen Lindsey's 18 points included 12 in the second half that helped the Friars stay close. Alpha Diallo scored 16 and had 11 defensive rebounds.
St. John’s takes on Seton Hall on the road, across the Hudson at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. The Seton Hall Pirates are ranked #23 and defeated the Creighton Bluejays (ranked #25) at the Prudential Center tonight.