9th in a row over SJU a crucial one

It seems like the days of Ron Artest and Bootsy Thornton running roughshod over the Friars happened a lifetime ago.

Over the last six years, Providence has been outstanding against the St. John's Red Storm, winning 81-73 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Saturday, an impressive 9th in a row. While the winning streak says a lot about the struggles of a once elite program, there is more to Providence's success against the Red Storm than that.

Like so many of the previous victories, Tim Welsh rode a better solid 2-3 zone on Saturday to victory, erasing a nine point deficit that was marked by an unsuccessful man to man defense that the quick and crafty Daryll Hill took advantage of. Following a return to zone defense and a number of defense big stops, the Friars also got strong performances from nearly everyone in the form of clutch baskets and made free throws which were absent in the loss to Seton Hall.

None of the baskets were more important than those made by Sharaud Curry (19pts) and Herb Hill (17pts). Donnie McGrath added a solid 13 point effort as the third Friar scoring in double figures. Geoff McDermott also put in a strong 10 rebound game and made some key free throws, always a good indictor of a Friar victory. Despite having a quickness advantage, it is clear that the Red Storm struggles with the Providence zone will likely continue until St. John's improves their outside shooting.

The victory over St. John's may have huge implications for making the Big East tournament. The bottom four teams in the Big East Conference will not be invited to the tournament in Madison Square Garden. Saturday's victory puts the Friars at 3-6 along with three other teams in the Big East Conference and in 11th place by virtue of tie breakers.

Two of those teams, St. John's and Rutgers, already have lost to the Friars and will have to finish with more conference wins than PC to finish higher in the standings. Depaul (2-7 BE), another team the Friars have beaten, will get an opportunity to get even with Providence on Tuesday in Chicago.

The Friars have to take advantage of their opportunities to win on the road, and Depaul is as good of an opportunity as any. Sammy Mejia, who torched the Friars for 30 points in Providence on Jan. 21st but recently hampered by an ankle injury, bounced back with 21 points on Saturday to lead Depaul to their first Big East road victory at South Florida. Providence will have to do a much better job containing Mejia on Tuesday as well as look out for impressive freshman Wilson Chandler, who sat out the loss at PC for disciplinary reasons and scored 15 to help spark the Blue Demons' against South Florida.

Tipping point of the game: With a little less than four minutes remaining and St. John's leading 71-68 after a pair of free throws by Daryll Hill, St. John's lost much of their inside presence when forwards Phil Missere (11pts 6rbs) and soon after Aaron Spears (10pts 5rbs) fouled out of the game. This allowed the Friars to not only get into the paint for high percentage shots and free throw opportunities, but also forced the Red Storm to look for their offense almost exclusively from the perimeter. With Anthony Mason Jr. proving to be the only outside threat for SJU (12pts), the Friars were able to get the necessary defensive stops and control the boards when they had to down the stretch for the win.

TIM WELSH PRESS CONFERENCE EXCERPTS

"Obviously this is a great league that our good friend Mike Tranghese has put together. Today I sat and watched Louisville and Notre Dame go into overtime and other games go down to the wire and I figured that, sure as hell, we'd go down to the last second tonight, too. We made the big plays at the end."

"I've been trying to preach to our guys that we have a very good offensive team. Because of our offense, we're going to be in most every game. In the first half, we shot 60%, and were down by five. I told our guys, you gave them 45 points in the first half and all season long they score 61 points a game. I said, we're going to get 80, but they're going to score 90. I told them to forget about the offense, and get into a defensive mindset."

"We were in zone, but they were scoring at will, so we went man to man to start the second half. I told my assistant coaches we were going back to zone because we've been very successful against St. John's in the past with zone, even though this is team has different personnel. I wasn't frustrated. We got four out of five stops when we went back to zone and cut the lead from nine to two in a hurry. We tightened up the zone, guarded Darryl Hill better, were tougher inside."

"Geoff was a warrior on the boards. Herb was an inside presence and got their big guys in foul trouble. This was a good win. St. John's is a good team, Norm does a great job."

"We have to find a way to put defensive hardhats on every night and every night we'll have a chance. They're difficult to play against. They're very patient against the zone. Darryl looked like the old Darryl, he had that look in his eyes where he says I can take you off the dribble."

"Someone must have loosened that rim because Geoff knocked those free throws in. I was very happy with his rebounding. He was a leader barking at guys during timeouts."

"Our strategy was to drive the ball inside. Spacing is so important against them. They smother you on defense. Our guys executed our game plan very well. We were much stronger with the ball in the second half."

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