St. John’s was playing without Mustapha Heron, but in mid-February, in the middle of a close conference race—the Red Storm felt they had no excuse.
Fresh off of momentum-building, NCAA Tournament resume-changing victory over the Marquette Golden Eagles, completing the season sweep on the road at the Fiserv Forum earlier in the week, the Red Storm came to a quick halt by the length, physicality, and hard-nosed nature of the Providence Friars.
The Friars spoiled St. John’s return to Madison Square Garden, winning 70-56.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with playing without Mustapha,” said St. John’s Marvin Clark, about the loss and his team scoring a season-low 56 points. “He’s one of our better scorers, but the game wasn’t won because we weren’t scoring. The game wasn’t won because we didn’t rebound...they rebounded the heck out of the ball on the offensive glass.”
According to St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin, Heron sustained a knee injury during the Marquette game, and he doesn’t have a timetable for a potential return.
Regardless, Providence controlled the glass and punished the Red Storm for giving up second-chance opportunities all throughout the game. The Friars won the glass, 43-23, and they converted 16 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points.
“That’s one of our strengths—our length, our size, our girth,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley. “Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but today was one of those days where our length played a difference.”
St. John’s didn’t have any answer and it proved crucial in the second half. With the game tied at 43, with about 12 minutes remaining in the game, the Friars went on a game-changing 14-5 run over the next 4:28 to take control of the game.
Shortly after, they slowly pushed the lead into double figures, and the Red Storm couldn’t muster any answers for a late-game comeback.
“Anytime you win a game here—in my profession, it’s like winning the lottery,” Cooley said. “There’s something special about this building that for some reason, our players embrace it and our culture embraces it.”
It was a hard-fought win for Providence, who held a narrow 31-29 lead at halftime. Both teams were clamping down defensively and opportunities were hard to come by.
Nate Watson led the Friars with 18 points and five rebounds. Isaiah Jackson added 12 points and seven boards to the win. Alpha Diallo didn’t have a great shooting day, going just 3-of-12 on the floor, but he worked hard on his way to a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double. David Duke Jr. rounded out the Friars’ scoring as the fourth player to score in double digits, chipping in 11 points to the win.
For St. John’s, Shamorie Ponds finished with a game-high 20 points. He also had six rebounds. L.J. Figueroa was the only other Red Storm player to finish in double digits, with 14 points. Outside of Figueroa and Ponds, the team struggled, shooting 8-for-27 collectively. (29.6 percent).
Providence improves to 14-10 overall, and 4-7 in Big East play. The Friars will continue their tough streak of road games, with a trip to Philadelphia on Wednesday night to take on the Villanova Wildcats. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET.
As for the Johnnies, they drop to 17-7 and 5-6 in conference play. They’ll look to regroup in time for a Tuesday night rematch with the Butler Bulldogs. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET