Friars Fold Late Again

After a big win at UConn a month ago, Providence was playing well enough to be projected in most mock brackets as "in the field of 64". Now that talk is long gone, and after a 64-62 head scratching road loss to St. John's, the Friars are facing the distinct possibility of missing the Big East Tournament. That clearly spells underachievement this season by anyone's definition.

While the Friars have endured some injuries and adversity this season that tempered some of their preseason expectations, it's hard to imagine that Tim Welsh envisioned his plans going this far off track. Since the win at Connecticut, the Friars have lost five out of the last six games, with the toughest stretch of opponents still coming up in the next four contests. At this point, it's becoming fairly clear that along with Villanova, Providence has to be considered the biggest disappointment in the Big East this season.

Providence badly needed at win over the Red Storm, and despite spotting St. John's a five point lead at halftime, Providence knew that they could come back on the young Red Storm team if they simply eliminated their turnovers in the 2nd half (10 1st half) because they were shooting well from the field. (50%) Providence had not lost a game all season long in which they had shot the ball at fifty percent or better in a game.

Providence outplayed St. John's for first 12 minutes of the 2nd half, slowing taking control and pulling ahead at 57-50 with only seven minutes to go. It appeared like the Friars were showing more patience offensively, converting in the paint and hitting the open man for quality shots. It also appeared like Providence's shooting ability and their veteran experience would carry the day against a St. John's team that started four freshman. However, when St. John's appeared to get more aggressive on defense, Providence became tentative in running their offense.

The Red Storm baited the Friars into taking a few ill advised three point shots, and Providence looked to be running clock with way too much time left in the contest. Suddenly, the Red Storm looked like the more veteran team. Outside of a Dwain Williams 3 point shot with under 10 seconds, the Friars amazingly did not convert another shot from the field in the last eight minutes of the game.

Providence could not convert anything, even missing a few bunnies from point blank range. St. John's methodically took back control of the game, and Eugene Lawrence's 3 point shot with 29 seconds followed by Larry Wright's two free throws kept the Red Storm ahead by two when Efejuku's failed attempt to tie the game bounced off the rim with .1 remaining on the clock. Another wasted opportunity.

The game at St. John_s was about the easiest opportunity for a road win that the Friars face all season. It's a short drive down Rt. 95, St. John's has seven freshmen on their roster, and the Red Storm was playing the game without leading scoring Anthony Mason, Jr.. The fact that the Friars could not pull out the victory raises questions about the upperclassmen leadership on the team.

Junior Jon Kale did not play due to a violation of team rules. The Friars got some good production from some of their juniors, but down the stretch they all failed to score and pull out the win. Both Randall Hanke and Weyinme Efejuku missed key free throws near the end of regulation, Efefuku's being the attempt that would have sent the game to overtime. Jeff Xavier finished the game with 19 points, making 5 of 8 three point attempts. Randall Hanke added 16 points in 38 minutes, the most he's played all year. Geoff McDermott had a line of eight points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

It's now gut check time for the Friars, and they will have to play much tougher in crunch time to win any remaining Big East games. In fact, given the competition, Providence could still lose the tough upcoming games, even if they do play well. It's not a pretty picture right now on Smith Hill, and the Friars are going to have to now surprise some people in order to turn their fortunes around.

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