Nate Watson and the Friars couldn’t keep pace at St. John’s (Photo: SJU Athletics)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
For a half, if not a bit more, the Providence Friars’ dream of a late-season momentum run looked real.
Then St. John’s happened.
Utilizing a quickness advantage and a cratering Friar attack, the Red Storm blitzed PC in the second half (51-26) and rolled to a 81-67 victory at Carnesecca Arena.
“We picked the wrong day to play that poor defensively for 20 minutes,” said coach Ed Cooley. “We couldn’t play any worse defensively.”
PC will wrap up its regular season at home Saturday against Villanova and at 12-12 and 8-10 in the Big East, the Friars will have no route to the NCAA Tournament except winning four games in four days next week at the Big East Tournament.
Shaking off a second half where St. John’s shot 55 percent and flew past the Friars won’t be easy. At this time of the season, however, it’s getting near closing time and Cooley was as upset as he’s been in several seasons with his team’s no-show second half effort.
“Fifty-one points in the second half? That was absolutely disgusting to see,” Cooley said. “We had urgency, we had no pop. I’m very, very disappointed in the group.”
Cooley credited St. John’s ball movement and quickness but said “it was like a different team showed up in the second half. We didn’t fight at all. I’m absolutely beside myself. It’s inexcusable at this time of the year to play that poor defensively. That’s on me, this is my loss. That was just a horse shit effort. Our players should feel embarrassed the way we played in the second half.”
Just as they did a week ago in throttling Xavier, the Friars began the game looking fresh and crisp on offense and aggressive on the defensive end. The combination led to a 20-10 start with David Duke, Nate Watson and A.J. Reeves all contributing. Reeves knocked home a three and had a nice slam to cap a 12-1 run and when Duke swooped into the lane for an easy score the Friars were in control, 20-10.
The Friars continually hurt the Red Storm in the paint, both in the flow of the offense and even on an out-of-bounds play. With just two seconds left on one inbounds, the Storm fell asleep and Watson exploded for a big jam at the rim. PC had 26 of their 40 first half points in the paint.
After St. John’s rallied to tie the game at 28-28, mostly with Duke taking his only break of the half, the Friars recovered nicely. Threes by Jared Bynum and Duke sparked a 10-0 spurt and Providence closed the final 5:13 on a 13-2 run to go into the half with a 41-30 lead.
Duke had 13 points at the break and was playing with a smooth, confident pace. On the other side, the explosive Julian Champagnie had eight points on only six shots.
Everything changed in the second half. The Friars couldn’t hold the Red Storm at bay and the wheels came off. A Watson flurry pushed back the first push as PC led 49-40 but St. John’s rode a powerful burst by Rasheem Dunn (21 points) to rip off a 13-2 run and take a 53-51 lead with 11:44 left. The Storm made 8 of its first 11 shots in the half.
The Friars pushed back and made it 60-60 with 6:46 to play after two Watson hoops but in crunch time things went haywire.
St. John’s quickness at guard with Dunn making a tough 3-pointer, scoring inside and making another tough jumper. Before the Friars could blink they were down 71-60 and the game was essentially over.
“He drove the ball,” Cooley said of Dunn,” and we had a tough time staying in front of him.”
Watson led PC with 19 points but he had just one rebound in 16 second half minutes. Duke totaled 16 points and 9 rebounds but managed just one basket and four turnovers in the decisive second half.
Nate Watson – 19 points, 5 rebounds
David Duke – 16 points, 9 rebounds
Rasheem Dunn – 19 points
Julian Champagnie – 16 points