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Three takeaways: second half slump buries St. John’s

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Red Storm struggled to stay out of foul trouble, consequently finding Nate Watson a tough matchup inside.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 08 St John’s at Providence Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On a chilly day in Providence, Rhode Island the St. John’s Red Storm fell to their conference rival, the Providence Friars, before a crowd of nearly 10,000. Despite leading by as much as seven in the second half, the Red Storm ultimately fell by a score of 83-73.

The loss marked the Johnnies’ first loss in Big East play and their second on the road this season. The only other road game St. John’s has played this season was at Indiana, although five of their next seven games will be played away from home.

If you just watched the first 25 minutes of this game, you would be surprised to hear St. John’s lost by double-digits. About five minutes into the second half the Johnnies held a 50-45 lead following a transition layup from Dylan Addae-Wusu, who was St. John’s most productive scorer all afternoon.

He would finish Saturday’s contest shooting 7-13 from the floor and scoring 20 points. Five costly turnovers marred what would have been a spectacular effort, but still, Addae-Wusu proved to be quite a difficult matchup for Providence. His downhill offense was hardly contained by the Friars who fouled him six times.

Nevertheless, by the time coach Mike Anderson called for timeout with 4:17 left in the second half, the game was over. St. John’s had seen their 50-45 lead evaporate over a costly stretch and now trailed 72-60.

“We played with a lot of energy today, we just got a little stagnant in the second half. I definitely liked how we didn’t give up at the end, regardless of what the score was. That showed a lot about our guys,” said St. John’s forward Aaron Wheeler. “That’s basketball, it’s two halves. We have to figure out how [to play] a complete game on the road. When games are close on the road it gets tough with the crowd. We just need to figure out how to put two halves together.”

It truly was a tale of two halves for St. John’s. A few takeaways from this conference loss, below.

Takeaway #1: Red Storm Foul Trouble

Coach Anderson’s squad had four of their nine participants commit at least three fouls.

Providence finished the day shooting 26-30 from the foul line, compared to 8-17 on St. John’s end. This discrepancy at the charity stripe was the difference in the game.

“The thing I was really disappointed in was the free-throw discrepancy, that was awful,” said head coach Mike Anderson after the game. “They made 26 out of 30 free throws, we made eight out of 17. That’s a big difference in the game.”

St. John’s foul issues allowed Providence to get easy scoring opportunities at the free-throw line and also hindered the Red Storm’s ability to defend the paint.

Joel Soriano was a player who was particularly plagued with foul issues. He collected three first half fouls and committed his fourth just seconds after the halftime break. He was immediately benched and did not check back until there were eight minutes remaining. Soriano’s foul issues kept him on the bench for much of this contest and greatly limited the ability of St. John’s to defend the paint.

Forward Aaron Wheeler was another Red Storm player that dealt with foul issues. He fouled out with seconds left in the game.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 08 St John’s at Providence Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Takeaway #2: Nate Watson is a problem

You cannot talk about St. John’s impeded paint defense without mentioning the dominant performance of Providence’s Nate Watson.

Watson is one of the premier players in the Big East and is someone opponents always game plan for. However, he proved to be almost no factor in the first half. Watson only played a total of nine minutes in the first half, scoring a paltry four points.

His quiet start to this game did not last long, as he took apart St. John’s interior defense in the second half. With Soriano saddled with fouls on the bench, the Friars exposed a favorable matchup they had on Aaron Wheeler. Despite formidable efforts, Watson proved too strong for Wheeler and any help defenders.

Watson played nearly the entire second half, tallying 18 points and eight rebounds in the second frame.

“I thought [Nate] Watson in the second half was a big difference in the game,” remarked head coach Mike Anderson.

Takeaway #3: Zone defense stumps St. John’s offense

St. John’s offense was slowed down by Providence who switched to a zone defense in the second half.

“They went to a zone and we got a little stagnant from that standpoint,” said coach Anderson. “We didn’t shoot particularly well in the second half against the zone. It was a good job on their part.”

The Johnnies were disrupted into a few bad turnovers and some poor shots by the Friars zone defense. Providence took advantage of St. John’s offensive slump, turning defense into offense and ultimately igniting a passionate crowd at Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Julian Champagnie had a particularly tough time finding his shot in the second half. He finished Saturday’s game with 11 points while shooting a disappointing 5-19 from the field, including 0-8 from beyond the arc. Champagnie struggled to get into a rhythm all afternoon mainly because Providence defended him well.

Going Forward

All things considered, St. John’s did not embarrass themselves on Saturday. Providence came into the matchup ranked #16 and was extra motivated after getting drubbed at Marquette just days earlier.

St. John’s looked like the better team for a huge portion of the game. The Johnnies caught a counterstrike from Providence that they were not prepared to handle, especially considering the raucous road environment. Still, the Red Storm did not look a cut below the Friars, at least from my seat.

One thing is becoming abundantly clear: the Big East is an incredibly bruising basketball conference. Top to bottom is physical teams that can beat anyone in the league. Even last-place DePaul can be a tough matchup this season, as St. John’s learned on Wednesday night.

Coach Anderson has assembled a talented roster that will be difficult to beat on any given night. Now comes the challenging part, navigating Big East play without racking up too many losses.

The Red Storm have opportunities to improve their ratings and get back into the NCAA Tournament picture. St. John’s certainly looks like they have the makeup of an NCAA Tournament team. The question is if they will actually play like one. Their next shot to secure a win will be next Wednesday in Storrs, Connecticut, a place where they grabbed a victory last season.