“Carnesecca After Dark” Ends In Gloom Against No. 15 Providence

Posh Alexander had a career night, but Champagnie absent in close loss.

St. John’s played close with league-leading No. 15 Providence in front of a full house in Queens, but ultimately came up short against the Friars, 86-82, despite an attempt at late-game heroics. 

With a packed house behind them, the Red Storm channeled the deafening volume of St. John’s fans onto their on-court play. “We really appreciate the fans coming out and supporting us,” Posh Alexander said in a postgame media conference. “It’s still great to have them in the gym cheering us on.” Both teams came out with an up-tempo performance reminiscent of the Johnnies’ last win at Seton Hall. Julian Champagnie opened up the scoring with a layup, and the team surprisingly held Providence bigs under control in the opening minutes. 

After just four minutes of play, Champagnie was replaced by Dylan Addae-Wusu and immediately exited the floor. The star forward suffered a facial injury above his right eye that required stitches. For nearly ten minutes, the St. John’s team had to survive without their leading scorer. They did, for the most part, trotting unusual lineups onto the court and were still down just five points when Champagnie returned after the under-eight media timeout.

The team energy returned almost instantaneously, as Addae-Wusu knocked down three pointers on two straight possessions. The Johnnies continued the close effort until the final minutes of the half. After a run by the Friars extended their lead to eight points, Addae-Wusu was fouled by Al Durham, who was charged with a flagrant foul. 

A resulting altercation between the two players forced the officials to issue a double technical foul. Key errors in crunch time — including turnovers, fouls and poor free throw shooting — saw the team enter halftime down eight points. After the game, head coach Mike Anderson acknowledged those key mistakes on the inbound and setting up the defense that led to a disappointing end to the first half. 

Returning from the locker room was a “resilient” St. John’s team that put up a valiant effort against the best of a competitive Big East field. “I thought we were in attack mode and our defense was really in tune,” Anderson said. It was all centered around Alexander on Tuesday night, who willed himself to the basket with on and off-ball screens throughout the game’s final minutes. 

The team fell into the same trap that has plagued them all season: as soon as they stormed back, Anderson rested their key players. As soon as Alexander left the floor, each and every St. John’s run was matched by the Friars. “We are in close games with these teams,” Alexander said. “It’s just bad decision making down the [stretch].” 

The turning point seemed to come with just under four minutes left to play, as Alexander and the Johnnies shot out a 74-72 lead over the Friars. It was the team’s first lead since the game’s opening minutes, and the thousands behind the Johnnies were as engaged as ever. But, to the dismay of fans in attendance, the St. John’s team failed to score a single point over the next three minutes and 15 seconds of play. 

By the time St. John’s escaped their scoring drought, it was too little too late. With 19 seconds left, Tareq Coburn sank a three pointer. With 13 seconds left, Addae-Wusu netted one of his own. With five left, Alexander secured a driving layup, the last of his career-high 29 points complimented by 12 assists. But Providence made its free throws, and there just wasn’t enough time on the clock for the Johnnies to turn the game around. 

It took five tries for the Red Storm to make a single free throw, and they’d finish with just four made out of 11 tries. Compared with Providence — who made 27 of 33 tries as St. John’s fouled in an attempt to stop bigs like Nate Watson — their measly 36.4 percentage at the charity stripe seems even worse. “Guys just have to focus a little more when they’re shooting,” forward Aaron Wheeler said regarding the disappointing free throw shooting, which both Wheeler and Anderson stated the team works on every day. 

“We play hard and we will bounce back,” Wheeler continued. “The guys are going to be eager and get out there to make-up for this loss.” They’ll have the opportunity — the Johnnies are set to play the conference’s basement dwellers at Georgetown and Butler on Thursday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, Feb. 5 — but no road win in the Big East is easy. 

“It’s frustrating at some point in time,” Anderson admitted, “because I thought this team would be a little further along.” In the most competitive Big East conference since the realignment, the Johnnies are quickly running out of chances as a once-promising season slips through their fingertips.