Friars Dominate St. John's, Advances in BET

Never question the heart of a champion. Many Providence fans and media (present company included) did not expect a victory over St. John’s for the second year in a row at the Big East Tournament. But that’s just fine with Ed Cooley, who relishes proving the doubters wrong.

“We knew we were coming in to basically play a road game, said Cooley. “I’m really proud of our guys, our scouting, I’m proud of their tenacity. I feel like we can play with anybody…Great team win. We’re excited to play tomorrow. I’m pretty sure no one in this room is giving us a chance. We’ve been in this position before. We’re going to do everything we can to continue to advance.”

How did Providence pull off the win? Their defensive game plan was outstanding. Associate Head Coach Bob Simon explained to how the coaching staff sought to take away St. John’s transition game, but just as importantly, take away St. John’s dribble penetration into the paint off of ball screens. The Friars frustrated the Red Storm all afternoon, forcing them to settle for contested 2 point jump shots, often off the dribble.

Providence started the game tight, going down 7-0 early. However, as soon as Kris Dunn took things into his own hands with 5 quick points, his Friar teammates settled down and really never looked back, going a key 18-0 run in the first half that would put Providence up for good. Providence put up an impressive 40 point first half, leading by 13 at the break. PC had 36 points in the paint for the game, and some of this had to do with the gimpy ankle of Chris Obekpa. The premier shot blocker of the Big East didn’t have his usual lift, and only had 1 block in the entire game, which allowed Ben Bentil, Henton, and Tyler Harris opportunities at the basket, supporting Kris Dunn’s outstanding playmaking and scoring in the lane (11 assists, 17 pts).

Though the Big East Co-Player of the Year did have 5 turnovers, at least 2 of them were fumbled passes by Ben Bentil that should have been assists. However, Big Ben more than made up for his errors with 14 points and 13 rebounds, a double-double under the brightest of lights from the freshman. LaDonate Henton was clutch with 50% shooting, 20 points, and 12 big rebounds, but Dunn orchestrated everything the Friars did, and when he sat with 2 fouls late in the first half, the Red Storm cut the Friar lead from 18 to 13.

St. John’s went to the press in the second half, but only with limited success. Providence began passing for easy baskets and the Johnnies short rotation eventually ran out of gas around the 4-minute mark. Rysheed Jordan sustained a wrist injury late in the first half, but continued to play throughout with it tightly wrapped. Being SJU’s most dynamic scorer, Jordan still managed 18 points, and was their most effective scorer. However, you have to think that his limitations really played a part in throwing some sand into the Johnnies comeback plans.

The Red Storm appear to be safely in the NCAA Tournament, but this loss almost certainly relegates them to the 8-9 game, surely a disappointing loss for Coach Steve Lavin. “I’m just a poor conference tournament coach”, said Lavin. “I don’t think I’ve ever won a conference tournament game as coach in the PAC10 or the Big East.” That’s not actually true, Coach, you did beat Arizona once back at UCLA… the New York media were speculating among themselves whether or not Lavin was trying to dig his own grave.

This win for Providence should likely solidify a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with an opportunity for more on Friday night against the formidable Villanova Wildcats. You’ve got to believe that this is the matchup that FoxSports1 wanted. Co-Players of the Year Kris Dunn vs. Ryan Arcidiacano. Darrun Hilliard vs. LaDontae Henton. The Friars will be underdogs once again, but you can’t deny the theater of this matchup. Get your popcorn, Friar fans!

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