So, the big question swirling around Friartown now is, does this win clinch a spot for Providence in the NCAA Tournament? Certainly PC’s 10-8 league mark, Top 50 wins, Top 100 wins and other metrics on their resume would seem to suggest that the Friars are in, regardless of what happens next week in New York. The view from here is that, while it certainly wouldn’t hurt to win a game (or more) in the Big East Tournament, the Selection Committee would now be hard-pressed to bypass a team that is as hot as any in the country.
And the Friars can play better. During this six game winning streak that brought PC’s Big East record from 4-8 to 10-8, Providence has played good, but not great ball. There have been full halves of sloppy play, long offensive droughts and the need for last minute heroics. The defense has been consistently excellent while the offense has, at times, sputtered. Still, PC has found a way to win in the last 5 minutes of games. And the thought that the Friars have yet to put together a full great 40-minute effort is actually a source of hope for this team. Because, there is another level, another gear, that this team is capable of. And if they find it, watch out, because the potential for a run is there.
Coming in, who would have thought that Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright would combine for 4-16 shooting and yet, with 3:05 on the clock, PC would be up by 16 points? That’s because of contributions by a host of other players. Bullock would be rendered ineffective by foul trouble (he’d eventually foul out), and Cartwright would contribute 8 boards and 7 assists, but Isaiah Jackson, Jalen Lindsey, Emmitt Holt, Alpha Diallo and Kalif Young would all make huge shots and plays throughout. Despite Bullock and Cartwright’s shooting woes, PC would shoot 51% from the field against the Johnnies.
Jackson would take charge with a team-high 18 points on 8-10 shooting along with 7 rebounds. More than anything, Jackson’s emergence over the past month and a half has spurred the Friars to a different level. It took some time to shake off the rust, but he is developing into the kind of player that Ed Cooley envisioned when he transferred from George Mason.
Diallo and Lindsey both chipped in with 17 points, Diallo on 5-10 shooting and Lindsey on 4-7, along with 3-6 threes. Lindsey has gone from a wildly inconsistent shooter to one that is now hitting nearly 50% of his threes on the season. His monstrous improvement on the offensive end has been another big reason for PC’s success.
Holt and Young combined for 20 points and 15 rebounds from the five-spot. Holt had 14 on 4-6 shooting, while Young had 6 on 3-5 shooting, along with a game-high 11 rebounds. As a team, PC outrebounded St. John’s, 43-35 and battled evenly on the offensive glass, a key to beating the Red Storm.
Not that this was a cakewalk. St. John’s (13-18, 7-11) battles to the end and certainly is much improved over last season’s edition. While PC led at the half, 37-25, and maintained a double digit lead for most of the second half, poor free throw shooting and inopportune foul calls helped keep the game from being an out-of-reach blowout. PC hit just 22-37 free throws (59.5%), compared to St. John’s 25-30 (83.3%) and that helped to offset the Friars’ advantage in shooting and three-point shooting.
The lead peaked at 60-42 after a Young tip-in with 8:29 left and PC still maintained a 16 point lead after Maliek White and Jackson layups with just over 3 minutes to go. Although the game looked safely in hand at that point, a sloppy couple of minutes and a charge led by Shamorie Ponds (29 points) cut that lead to 7, at 78-71 with just 50 seconds remaining after a flurry of Ponds’ drives and layups.
At that point, PC regained control, after a missed three by Lindsey was rebounded by Cartwright and Diallo knocked down two free throws. Another Ponds layup was followed by two more Diallo freebies. Yet another Ponds layup led to a foul and two Holt free throws with 11 ticks left, pushing the lead to 9. This time, Ponds missed and Lindsey answered with two free throws to seal the game. Down the stretch, the Friars hit their final 10 free throws after struggling for the majority of the game.
Now the Friars will return home and head back to New York next week for a Thursday game against a team that had yet to be determined at the time of this story. Have they done enough? The next eight days will determine the answer to the question.