Disappointing Start Dooms Friars

LaDontae Henton

In a season with NCAA dreams, the formula is usually to protect your home court and steal a few games on the road. On Tuesday night, Providence let a critical home game get away and were dumped by the surging St. John's Red Storm, 86-76.

With the loss, Providence drops to 16-7 overall and 6-4 in the Big East – still good for third place, but in a position where the margin for error is shrinking, especially with five of the remaining eight games on the road. And two of the home games – Villanova and Marquette – are no gimmes.

IS ANYBODY HOME? The Friars looked flat and unready to play at the start of the game and St. John's took full advantage. Jakarr Sampson scored early and often, and the Johnnies – a team with a reputation of poor jump shooting – received contributions from an array of players. St. John's hit 14 of their first 20 shots (70%) and there were plenty of jump shots included, mixed in with an assortment of layups and dunks. Meanwhile, the Friars were as cold as the weather. Perhaps the first half was best summed up by the final play. Down 51-37, Tyler Harris' lazy pass was picked off near mid court by Sir'Dominic Pointer, who roared in for a jam at the buzzer.

TURNOVER, ANYONE? PC committed 15 turnovers in the game, compared to a measly five for the Storm. Many of the turnovers were of the sloppy, unforced variety. Harris, Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton were among the guiltiest and the turnovers led directly to points. When St. John's jumped passing lanes and tipped the ball, they were off to the races. The Storm scored 19 points off of turnovers, compared to just 4 for PC.

PAINT JOB. Providence really struggled in their man to man defense and allowed St. John's into the paint far too often. Sampson, Chris Obekpa and Pointer drove to the rim with abandon in the first half, and the Johnnies piled up a 42-18 paint point advantage. When the Friars' man defense wasn't allowing multiple sorties into the paint, it was allowing wide open jumpers. One of the mysteries of this game… why didn't the PC coaching staff switch to zone earlier? How much worse could a switch have made it then staying in man and giving up 53 points in a half?

COTTON-CENTRIC. It's already well established that Bryce Cotton is Superman. He played 40 minutes again against the Storm, although he did come out for several seconds in the final minute due to four fouls and offense-defense switches. He scored a season high 32 points and dished for 6 assists and only 2 turnovers. But he attempted a career high 25 shots (hitting 11) and 10 three pointers. In fact, the rest of the team attempted 38 shots, hitting just 13. Cotton needs help, because 25 shots are too many. Henton did not establish himself in this game, Batts, who struggled against St. John's length and athleticism and was blocked at the basket several times, was 3-9, although he did get to the line, shooting 9-9, and Harris was a no show, playing just two minutes in the second half and shooting 1-8.

GETTING OVER THE HUMP. St. John's lead peaked at 23 points, at 67-44, with 14:50 to play in the second half. From there, the Friars applied pressure and the team awoke. A couple of turnovers and missed shots sparked PC and Providence went on a 19-2 run, capped off by a Cotton three, that made it 69-63 with 8:12 left. With the crowd roaring and St. John's reeling, the run ended as suddenly as it had begun. PC continued to get stops but missed shots, forced shots (Cotton layup in traffic), suffered shot clock violations and turned the ball over. The Friars did not score again for over five minutes – their next points were on a dunk by Carson Desrosiers with 3:17 left. Incredibly, in that five minute stretch, the Johnnies could not take advantage, scoring just four points themselves. But, down 73-65 and the clock running down, PC's opportunity had passed. During that five minute stretch, incredibly, St. John's was there for the taking.

SERIOUSLY? After a Josh Fortune miss on a three, St. John's had the ball, up 84-75 with just 27 seconds left. In that situation, most teams take the ball over half court and hold it as the seconds tick away, in a sign of respect for their opponent. The team that's down doesn't foul or play aggressive defense and the team with the ball doesn't try to score. Kind of an unwritten code of conduct. Apparently, not for St. John's. With the ball in the right corner, Pointer decided to go baseline and attempt to put an emphatic exclamation point on the win with a dunk. Desrosiers, with 4 blocks already, had other ideas, and grabbed Pointer by the shoulders, forcing him to the floor. As the two teams jawed and shoved at each other, the refs assessed a flagrant-1 foul on Carson and a technical foul on Pointer. An unfortunate end to what had been a sour game for PC anyway. What was he thinking?

NEXT UP. At Xavier on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Musketeers have not played well since their loss to PC, but they are home and desperate to win. FoxSports 1 and Cox will have the game.

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