Friars Blow Out The Storm

If what has seemed to ail Providence College all season appeared to coalesce in the loss to Notre Dame, then the Friars certainly mended their ways in a 74-59 win over St. John's on Sunday. With the win, PC improved to 9-5 overall and 1-1 in the Big East.

That the Friars emerged from St. John's Queens campus with a win wasn't in itself a shock. Despite a 10-3 start, the Red Storm are a team that, like Providence, is still searching for an identity. In fact, the Storm has been down for so long, that fans of the once proud program are openly calling for coach Norm Roberts' head.

Rather, what is surprising about the win is how it came about. All along, the thinking has been that to win in Big East games, PC has to shoot lights out, because the Friars have not been able to guard anyone. On this night, though, PC played inspired defense, received key stops, and overcame a poor shooting game for a much valued road win in the conference.

Against a bigger Johnnie's team that was also missing its starting point guard, Malik Boothe, the Friars threw a zone defense at St. John's that attempted to deny the easy inside scores and challenged the Storm to hit outside jumpers. Keno Davis also sprinkled in a dose of halfcourt pressure, designed to take advantage of Boothe's absence, and the Storm committed 23 turnovers.

In the first half, the two teams traded punches and St. John's threatened to pull away before a Brian McKenzie three drew PC back within three. At halftime, PC trailed just 33-32, despite a horrific shooting half, and they did so by forcing 15 turnovers and hitting the glass for second chances. Sharaud Curry scored 15 of the team's 32 points, as no other Friar could find his groove offensively.

In the second half, PC started slowly and found themselves down by eight, 46-38, but dug in on defense and climbed back into the game, again using a key three by McKenzie to pull close. A 10-2 run tied the game at 48-all, but after a Dwight Hardy lay-up, St. John's still led, 54-50, with just over seven minutes left.

The final seven minutes belonged to the Friars. Greedy Peterson, who had been quiet, converted on an offensive rebound putback, and Bilal Dixon followed with one of his own, and after two more Peterson buckets and a lay-up by Curry, PC had put together a 14-0 run for a 64-54 lead, with 3:47 remaining.

Earlier in the season, this was exactly the moment where the Friars would start rushing shots and making poor decisions and watch their comfortable lead disappear. But in this game, it was PC who executed down the stretch and St. John's who fell apart. The Johnnie's closed to within 64-58, but PC iced the game as Curry knocked down free throws, and Marshon Brooks put back a Peterson charity miss for a 12-point lead. In all, the Friars closed the game on a 24-5 run and outscored St. John's in the second half by a 42-26 margin.

Curry, on this night at least, found his shot, scoring 26 points, on 7-13 shooting, and also knocked down 9-10 free throws. He was joined in double figures by Peterson, with 14 points (but only 5-15 shooting) and 5 boards, McKenzie, who had a nice game in front of the home fans, with 12 points and Brooks, with 10.

So what else was different? The Friars found their way to the free throw line, hitting 23-29 freebies, compared to just 5-11 by St. John's. Curry, Peterson, McKenzie and Vincent Council all slashed to the basket and got themselves to the line. The Friars played stout defense, as Dixon, with 8 boards and 5 blocks, defended the post effectively. They turned St. John's over and pounded the boards against a bigger team, losing the overall board battle by just 42-41, but winning the offensive glass battle, 16-10.

Now the Friars have a Wednesday night battle with old friend Rick Pitino and Louisville at the Dunk to look forward to. If the hard-earned lessons of playing tough defense, getting to the free throw line, executing down the stretch and hitting the boards hard continue to take hold, these Friars may no longer have to outshoot everybody to win basketball games.

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