The 10-8 league record accomplished one of Ed Cooley’s primary goals entering the season – double digit Big East wins. With that comes a likely clinching of an NCAA Tournament berth and a fourth-place finish for Providence. PC is now locked into the 4-5 game at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Garden in the Big East Tournament against either Creighton or Butler.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” Ed Cooley said. “We did what we had to do. We stumbled in the middle but finished well. I think if you get 10 wins in this league, plus the non-conference wins that we had, we should be fine. What were we ranked, 13 weeks? I’d be shocked.”
The 22 regular season wins represents PC’s most since the 1977-78 team finished 23-6. More importantly, the win now gives the Friars a regular season-ending three game win streak and some momentum heading into the postseason. On top of that, the team is thrilled to have played their last regular season game in the Garden, where they’ll return next week for the Big East Tournament.
Coming in against a young St. John’s team that entered the game at 8-22 overall and 1-16 in the league, Providence figured to win and really couldn’t afford a loss to a team that had a 236 RPI. Earlier, on January 2, PC had easily defeated the Johnnie’s, 83-65, in what had been the Friars’ largest margin of victory in the league until beating DePaul a week ago. However, 7 of St. John’s 8 wins had come at home and they had played a number of teams tough at home recently, including Seton Hall.
What St. John’s didn’t expect, though, was Jalen Lindsey’s coming-out party. Lindsey scored a career-high 30 points, on 10-16 shooting, including 6-9 from three, along with 6 rebounds. Lindsey scored PC’s first 8 points and hurt the Red Storm early with threes. He hit his first 7 shot attempts and by the time he missed a three, PC led 30-16, on the way to a 49-26 halftime lead.
"Wow," said Ed Cooley. "Jalen put on a cape today. We shot the ball really, really well and that gave us offensive confidence and we were able to take advantage of some of their mistakes. It was good to play here as we get ready for the toughest tournament in the country in the best building in the world."
"Coach and my teammates are getting confident in me," said Lindsey. "Hopefully that's the plan. We have to stay focused and stay determined."
St. John’s was game, but lacked the firepower necessary to complete a comeback. Turnovers, coupled with horrendous free throw shooting – the Johnnies missed their first 7 free throw attempts – doomed any chance they had to compete. After cutting the lead to 63-50 after a Federico Mussini jumper with 9:33 left, PC responded with a knifing Kris Dunn drive and layup and a bullet pass from Dunn to Lindsey for a reverse layup.
St. John’s had one final gasp, cutting the lead to 72-59 with 5:43 remaining on a Kassoum Yakwe short jumper, but Ben Bentil buried a straight-on three and then Dunn rifled a pass to Bentil for a layup, Lindsey knocked down another three and Dunn exploded through for a ferocious alley-oop dunk and his free throw made it 83-61 and the Friars were out of harm’s way.
With Lindsey scoring in bunches and Bentil contributing 23 points on 9-18 shooting and 10 rebounds, Dunn played the role of facilitator to perfection. After scoring just 2 first half points, Dunn finished with 13 but added 11 assists for only his second double-double since January 24. With others contributing, the pressure on Dunn to score is lessened and his effectiveness rises.
Kyron Cartwright continued his strong play as Dunn’s running mate, contributing 7 points and 6 assists in 28 minutes and distributing the ball well, including the alley-oop to Dunn. Cartwright’s effectiveness also lessens the load on Dunn and allows him to run off the ball to open spots.
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For the game, PC shot 50 percent from the floor and a season best 13-30 from three. PC had 25 assists on 31 made field goals and just 10 turnovers. They also outrebounded St. John’s, 40-35, including 13 offensive boards. The Johnnies shot the ball well – 48 percent – but hit just 8-17 free throws and committed 14 turnovers. St. John’s was led by 6-7 junior Christian Jones, with 14 points and 12 boards and Durand Johnson had 15 points.