The Red Storm blew into town with a team that included ten seniors and was fresh off a thumping of West Virginia at West Virginia. This was not the same team that had lost heartbreakers to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, the latter after blowing a 21-point lead. Since that time, the seniors on the Storm have begun to gel and have grown as players and as a team.
Providence, meanwhile, is a young team that is in the midst of a thirteen game Big East losing streak and is still searching for its identity and all-important experience in handling end of game, pressure situations. At this point, the Friars lack those answers.
The first half resembled a 1980's Big East rock fight, but produced one amazing statistic. All of St. John's points in the half came in the paint. Both teams struggled mightily to score and after eight minutes, PC trailed by just 8-6. The Friars went on a mini-run and led 16-10 after two Marshon Brooks' lay-ups and a Duke Mondy three pointer, but PC had no answers for Justin Brownlee or Dwight Hardy.
Hardy in particular sliced his way through PC's defense for repeated driving lay-ups and St. John's opened a 26-18 lead, forcing Keno Davis to call a timeout to get the personnel that he wanted into the game. The Friars ran off six points on a jumper and free throws by Vincent Council, but Hardy scored again at the buzzer and the Storm led 28-24 at the half. "What we couldn't stop were their driving lay-ups," said Keno Davis. "This team has done a good job of gathering itself at halftime. But it takes our guys ten, fifteen minutes sometimes, to gather themselves. We could have used a few more timeouts in the first half, to teach a little in terms of trying to adjust to what St. John's was doing on defense, but we had to try to do it on the fly."
Scoring came more easily in the second half, but PC struggled to keep up as St. John's continued to press its advantage in the paint. A lay-up by D. J. Kennedy was followed by a dunk by impressive freshman Dwayne Polee and PC was down 51-39. Dre Evans answered with a three, but with six and a half minutes to play, St. John's still led, 57-47.
In the next minute and a half, the Friars turned up the heat. First Marshon Brooks scored on two isolation drives for lay-ups, then Gerard Coleman stripped the ball from Kennedy and scored on a lay-up. Polee traveled and Mondy buried a three. Coleman then stole the ball and should have scored on goaltending but came up empty when the refs missed the call. However, the Friars were within two and after Justin Burrell missed a jumper, Coleman tied the score on a lay-up and put PC up by one with the free throw.
Brownlee answered with a drive and lay-up and Kadeem Batts tied the score at 60-all and Steve Lavin called a timeout with 3:27 left. "I looked around the huddle and looked at their body language and the look in their eyes," said Lavin. "There was no panic. They were ready to step up and take the game. That's why I had all seniors in for the last four minutes."
PC, on the other hand, made several mistakes that opened the door for St. John's. After a missed lay-up by Brownlee, Council threw an ill-advised full court pass that skimmed off Coleman's fingertips out of bounds. Burrell missed and a twisting, driving lay-up by Council gave the Friars a 62-60 lead, but Brownlee hit a short jumper to tie the score again. Brooks tried to drive again, but got caught in-between and threw up a short shot that was grabbed by Brownlee and St. John's patiently passed the ball until Paris Horne ended up with it in the deep left corner. Horne drilled a three point dagger that put the Storm up, 65-62, with :28 left.
Brooks was called for a very questionable offensive charge with :13 to play, and Kennedy drilled two free throws to put the Johnnies up five. Despite a Brooks three with a tick left, St. John's had escaped by executing brilliantly down the stretch. "Tonight we got a little excited and rushed a little bit," said Davis. "With a veteran team, I would have been a lot more upset in the lockerroom. But I have to remind myself, that this is the first time for a lot of these guys in these situations. These are freshmen and sophomores trying to compete against a team with ten seniors."
For the game, St. John's scored 48 points in the paint, and shot 53% overall. Neither team was able to get to the free throw line, with just 19 total attempts in the game, 13 by PC. Hardy led St. John's with 21 points, on 8-13 shooting, including three second half threes. For PC, Brooks scored 20, on 8-14 shooting, while Council had 14 and Coleman 11. After shooting 0-5 in the first half, Coleman shot 5-6 in the second. The Friars' frontcourt was badly outplayed, as Bilal Dixon saw just 20 minutes and struggled with the Johnnie's defenses.
The sledding gets no easier for PC as the 11-4 (0-2) Friars welcome Top 5 Pittsburgh into the Dunk on Tuesday evening. Another home game, another opportunity to knock off a highly ranked team and snap an ugly conference losing streak.
Red Storm Shocks The Friars, 67-65
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