Kevin McSports

Friars can’t hold off Storm as rally falls short

Friars can’t hold off Storm as rally falls short

Devin Carter (scoring against St. John’s last year) went for a career-best 31 in Wednesday’s loss


Winning plays.

They are the small things, the little moments that can add up and ultimately cost a team a basketball game. You let too many of those plays go the other way and a season can slip away in the process.

This year’s Providence Friars have already seen plenty of those moments, some positive and others negative. The latest came in an exciting, but terribly frustrating 75-73 loss to St. John’s Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. It was the third straight loss for a Friar team (11-5, 2-3) that has seen its margin to shrug off careless mistakes all but disappear.

The Friars are a different team than they were just a week ago before Bryce Hopkins’ season-ending knee injury. With Hopkins they owned the rope to get off to slow starts on the road, miss 10 free throws, lose the ball carelessly and fail to block out on a free throw with just a few breaths left in a game. Without their rebounding horse of a forward, the margin for error all but vanishes.

Many of those mistakes did stalk the Friars against Rick Pitino’s team. The Red Storm, off to a 4-1 Big East start for the first time in 23 years, raced out to a 9-0 lead. PC had five turnovers before the fans had purchased their first $18 beer. Missed free throws slowed the offense and the Friars were fortunate to trail by just 40-29 at the half.

The second half was another story. Now locked-in and riding the cape of Superman Devin Carter, the Friars roared back with a 16-4 start to grab a 45-44 lead. It was a game from there but ultimately St. John’s closed with some strong post play from Joel Soriano (16 pts, 7 rebs) and grabbed a key rebound off a missed free throw with six seconds left. A Jayden Pierre 3-point prayer at the buzzer went unanswered.

“You do it to yourself,” said coach Kim English. “When you’re not locked in, when you don’t execute to start. On the road all you want to do is eliminate losing. You want to eliminate losing and when you give shooters threes, when you turn the ball over, when you don’t execute plays and you’re just not locked in, you’re not eliminating losing. You’re aiding losing.”

The Friars closed strong in this one but, like in a home loss to Seton Hall last week, could not close. This time they were hurt by a missed layup by senior Ticket Gaines that led to a Soriano free throw for a 73-67 lead. Freshman Garwey Dual answered with a clutch jumper with 56 seconds left but the inability to defend Soriano on a roll led to another free throw and a 74-69 lead.

Carter was fouled with 24 seconds left shooting a 3-pointer but made just 2-of-3. Rafael Castro tied up the rebound on the one miss and PC retained possession. Carter sliced to the rim for his 30th and 31st points to cut the deficit to 74-73 with 10 seconds on the clock. PC fouled freshman Brady Dunlap and he promptly missed both free throws but R.J. Luis somehow snuck inside past Gaines to chase down the rebound. He made 1-of-2 with 4.7 seconds showing to keep the door open but Pierre’s deep 3-pointer at the buzzer would not fall.

“I give credit to R.J. Luis,” English said. “To have that type of wherewithal and that aggressive attack to offensive rebound at that juncture is good. It’s a learning moment for us. Not one we need to learn. Ticket knows that defensive rebounds are important. It’s a game full of mistakes. That one play doesn’t cost you the game.”

The stats tell a lot in this one. In the first half a Friar defense that’s been among the best in the country thus far this season was torched for 40 points on 56 percent shooting and 45 percent from the 3-point line. PC missed 8 of its 11 threes and 5 free throws in the opening half.

The second half was totally different. Taking a hefty cue from Carter (23 points), the Friars were the more aggressive team on both sides of the ball and ended up winning the half, 44-35. They were hurt once again at the foul stripe, however, missing five more free throws to finish 11-of-21 for the game.

“I thought our guys battled,” English said, “but it was a tale of two halves. I thought St. John’s was the aggressor in the first half, aided by us. I thought our focus wasn’t there. We were playing catch-up the whole game.”

No one battled more than Carter. The junior from Miami texted English after Hopkins’ injury to tell his coach he was ready to elevate his game. He’s delivered, in spades. He’s averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 steals in the last three games, opening the eyes of the college basketball universe.

“If we had trades in college basketball, there’s not another guard in the country that I would trade Devin Carter for,” English said.

St. John’s coach Rick Pitino didn’t flinch either

English said he feels Carter is prepared to carry an extra load and be one of the country’s elite players.

“It’s what we have to do at this current juncture,” English said. “Ryan Kalkbrenner played 39 minutes the other night. Devin, he can handle it. He’s in great physical condition, we get him timeouts when we can. He’s been great. He’s been a warrior, he’s been a great leader. I can’t say enough words about where he is and what ‘s doing to keep us in these games.”

Another player who has raised his game is Jayden Pierre, the sophomore guard who is seeing the most extensive playing time of his young career. He fired in 17 points, with three 3-pointers and five assists. “I don’t look at Jayden as some set-up guy,” English said. “I look at him as a modern point guard who can score and play.”

Veterans Gaines (11 points, 4 rebounds) and Josh Oduro (5 points, 9 rebounds) are going to have to raise their production if the Friars hope to win games in this competitive Big East.

Both before and after the game Red Storm coach Rick Pitino went out of hsi way to praise PC and the job English is doing. St. John’s comes to the Amica Mutual Pavilion Feb. 13.

“Providence is doing an amazing job,” Pitino said. “I’m really happy with the school that I love so much that they hired this coach (English) because he’s going to have a brilliant career. He’s going to be absolutely great down the road as a recruiter, as a coach. He’s got it all. I really love this coahc and what he’s doing with providence because Providence is my unofficial alma mater. I was only there two years but the best two years of my life.”



Other Posts