Guarding the home court is of utmost importance in college basketball if you hope to have a season of fulfilled expectations. On Wednesday, Providence let a late lead get away as they dropped a 91-86 home decision to the young Red Storm of St. John's.

In the midst of a 91-86 defeat, the Friars found themselves in their first high-octane shootout of the season – a style of play they are considerably unaccustomed to.  Entering last night’s contest, Providence ranked last in Scoring Offense in the Big East, averaging 69.9 points per game in conference play.  Conversely, the young and spry Johnnies ranked fourth in Scoring Offense, averaging 76.7 points per game in league play.  Needless to say, St. John’s torched Providence, adding another quality road victory to their resume.

This was a game that Providence would love to have back.  In the Big East, winning at home is essential, considering that all teams play one another home and away; a truly unique quality that not many other conferences offer.  On the other hand, winning on the road in this league is an obstacle itself.  Night in and night out these ten programs encounter elite talent, intimidating atmospheres, world class coaching and the burden of reputation.  Mental toughness and 40 minutes of ‘grind’ is half the battle.  Teams that execute and play with a sense of purpose win games.  Last night, St. John’s excelled in both areas.

On-Ball Defense

The Friars have fallen into a defensive rut.  Last night’s contest marked the sixth time over the last ten games that PC has allowed their opponent to shoot 50% or better from the field – a clear factor in the loss, as Providence shot the ball at a 62% clip themselves, which should have been good enough to win.

The Red Storm backcourt tandem of, Marcus LoVett (26 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Shamorie Ponds (22 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals), got under PC’s skin early and didn’t let up, not even for a brief moment.  LoVett, a redshirt freshman and Ponds, a true freshman and native of Brooklyn, combined for what I would consider to be the most impressive one-two punch the Friars have faced all season.  Similarly to Ed Cooley, St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin has settled into his dream job and it shows.  A proponent of keeping local talent close to home, Mullin has pulled in Top 100 talent to a Red Storm program desperately in need of revitalization.  Ponds and LoVett are the foundation of Coach Mullin’s vision of his up and coming program.

The two youngsters combined for 48 points, while shooting 15-24 (62.5%) from the floor, including 6-10 (60%) from beyond the arch.  The Johnnies took advantage of PC’s leaky perimeter defense early in the first half, after Jalen Lindsey and Emmitt Holt found themselves in foul trouble, with two infractions apiece.  In an effort to remedy St. John’s red hot shooting, Coach Cooley switched up his defensive sets.  St. John’s handled the Friars’ 2-3 zone without any trepidation.  In a play that summed up St. John’s offensive prowess, Marcus LoVett, nailed an NBA range, step-back, fade away, three pointer in the face of Kyron Cartwright, with just four seconds remaining in the first half.

Trouble at the Stripe

If it weren’t for poor free-throw shooting, the Friars may have pulled off a win.  Collectively, the Friars shot just 66.7% from the charity stripe, well below their respectable team average of 71%.  Freshman center Kalif Young was the biggest culprit, sinking just 1 of 4 attempts.  Young has had his fair share of bricks this season, shooting a bleak 34% from the foul line.  Ironically, Young started in place of Emmitt Holt, who had been finding himself in foul trouble early on in recent games.  The true freshman managed to draw three fouls but failed to produce.

Primary Ball Handling

Although Kyron Cartwright shared highlight reel, back and forth exchanges with Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds, his ball handling was an area of concern.  Providence turned the ball over six times in the opening four minutes of the first half and committed 19 turnovers in total.  Cartwright had 16 points and 5 assists but also 6 turnovers. The costliest turnover happened during PC’s last possession with just two seconds remaining, down by one point, with a score of 87-86.  With 14 seconds remaining, Cartwright, Cooley’s preferred floor general in clutch situations, hastily brought the ball up the court with his signature speed in an attempt to convert a difficult layup off a pick-and-roll move that never materialized as time expired.  Much like his last-second layup against DePaul, Cartwright’s take to the basket was heavily contested.  Alas, he lost the ball out of bounds, unable to draw a foul through contact. 

The ball handing development of freshman combo-forward, Alpha Diallo, is worth mentioning.  It seems that Coach Cooley is lending Diallo more and more opportunities to expand his role as part of PC’s half-court offense.  Now utilized as the Friars’ secondary ball handler on the floor alongside Cartwright and Maliek White, Diallo’s growth is eminent.  Dropping a career high of 18 points, while adding 8 rebounds and 4 assists, Alpha showcased his athleticism, explosiveness and swagger with fast break dunks, fearless isolation and penetration.  A performance that Friar Nation has been anticipating for quite some time and a true bright spot on a dismal night.

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The Friars (13-9, 3-6 conf.) travel to Milwaukee as they take on the Golden Eagles of Marquette (14-6, 5-3 conf.) at the Bradley Center, a venue that Providence has never won in.  The game will take place on Saturday, January 28th at 2:00 p.m.

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