The sound emanating from the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence on Wednesday night was a collective sigh of relief from Friar fans following a much needed 70-66 Senior Night win against the Creighton Bluejays.
After losing six of nine games following a rise to the top ten of the AP Poll, the Friars (21-9, 9-8) found themselves squarely on the bubble and were in desperate need of a win. Poor shooting, seemingly becoming the Friars' trademark, allowed Creighton to take a 32-28 halftime lead, but a strong second half from Ben Bentil and company allowed Providence to avert disaster.
Heading to Madison Square Garden for a BIG EAST Tournament appetizer against the St. John's Red Storm (8-22, 1-16), the Friars will be looking to give the NCAA Tournament selection committee no reason to keep them out of the dance. The Red Storm, coming off a 41-point loss against Creighton, will be looking to foil the Friars tournament hopes and send their three seniors off with a win in their final true home game. St. John's has fared better at the Garden than elsewhere, notching a nonconference win against Syracuse and nearly pulling an upset against a tourney bound Seton Hall team, owners of two wins against the Friars.
Providence stood at 14-1 after beating St. John's 83-65 in early January, but have stumbled to a 7-8 record since. All told, a win in the season finale would wrap up a solid 22 win season and likely punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
How to watch, listen, or stream
Game Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: WEEI 103.7 FM (Providence) || AM 570 The Mission (St. John's)
Stream: Streaming will be available via FOX Sports GO
Line: Providence enters this game as an 8 point favorite (via OddsShark)
Record ATS: Providence (15-14) || St. John's (11-17-1)
O/U: The O/U opened at 141.5
3 things to watch for
1. Providence's Supporting Cast: Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn are the best one two punch in the conference, and arguably the country, but the Friars' struggles to find them consistent help have been well documented. Early on, it seemed that Rodney Bullock and Ryan Fazekas may provide enough complimentary shooting and scoring, and Drew Edwards and Junior Lomomba had their moments as well.
Lately, Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey have stepped up and provided some support. Cartwright has averaged nearly 10 points and six assists per game in the past three games, and Jalen Lindsey has scored 14 and 13 points in Providence's last two games despite not reaching double figures in any previous BIG EAST game.
All told, the non-Dunn and Bentil Friars have been inconsistent all year, particularly shooting the basketball. Getting a win is first priority for the Friars, but I'm sure Ed Cooley would love to see Cartwright and Lindsey contin
ue to play well, and for his team to take some confidence away from and then back into Madison Square Garden.
2. Johnnies Look to Play Spoiler: St. John's has had a difficult year, rebuilding under the new leadership of coach Chris Mullin. The Red Storm's lone conference win came against DePaul, and the highlight of their season was a home win against potential NCAA Tournament team, in-state and former BIG EAST rival Syracuse.
Now, the Johnnies have a chance to play spoiler. Providence can ill afford a loss, particularly given the Red Storm's resume and the Friars current position on the bubble. And although St. John's is generally a young team, their three seniors, Durand Johnson, Felix Balamou and Ron Mvouika will be hungry for a win on their senior day, and the younger players will want to send their teammates out with a win.
Look for St. John's to come out with extra energy, which if unmatched by the visiting Friars could have the Johnnies thinking upset.
3. Dunn and Bentil: Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil are both sure bets for first team all-conference, and are among of handful of players in contention for BIG EAST Player of the Year honors. Dunn has struggled a bit lately, in part due to a virus that took some time shake, and some smart defensive game planning from the opposition.
Teams have been using the top of their zone to pressure Dunn past the three point line, keeping him out of the paint and limiting his effectiveness in the half court, but he was very effective in the Creighton win. Bentil has been a beneficiary of the attention Dunn has received, and he has become a reliable volume scorer, breaking out in a way no one expected. Creighton tried to use a zone double team on Bentil when he caught the ball below the free throw line, particularly in the corners, but Providence was able to move him around the zone and use Cartwright and Dunn's penetration to find him for open looks. He has scored 31, 28 and 27 points in his last three games.
It will be interesting to see if one of these two wins player of the year, or if the voters give it Josh Hart, the best player on the best team. All are deserving, and other players have a case to make as well. Regardless, it's been a hell of a season for the Providence duo.