Teams that are unable to find holes in a zone defense, are forced to play the perimeter game. To live and die with the perimeter game won’t get a team very far, especially when it is a struggle to hit those type of shots.
St. John’s is one such team. Entering Wednesday’s game against Providence, the Red Storm were ranked 12th in all its games among 14 Big East teams at (.335).
Facing the Providence Friars (18-6, 7-5 Big East) who had beaten St. John’s (13-10, 7-5 Big East) 75-63 on February 3rd in Providence, the Red Storm were forced onto the perimeter. It shot 4 of 23 (.174) from three point range in its latest loss to Providence 64-53, before a sellout crowd on senior night at Alumni Hall.
“This team is very consistent. To come back and win on the road after a big win [Georgetown] shows the character and maturity of our team, especially our seniors”, Providence Head Coach Tim Welsh said.
In the Friars previous game against Georgetown diminutive point guard John Linehan outplayed Hoya point guard Kevin Braswell, scoring 18 points on him. Against St. John’s he struggled from the field (2 of 8) but hit 8 clutch foul shots to lead the Friars with 13 points.
Among the culprits in the Johnnies poor perimeter showing were Omar Cook (2 of 12) and Willie Shaw (2 of 9). “It was their zone, that slowed us down, said Omar Cook. “I think I took shots that I didn’t really want to take, mostly at the end of the shot clock and that’s why my shots were rushed,”.
Perimeter shooting wasn’t the only shooting problem for SJU. On the rare occasions that it broke the Friars relentless zone, it had difficulties scoring. For the game it shot .311 on 19 of 61 shooting. In the decisive second half, the Friars held the Red Storm to .229 on 8 of 35 shooting.
“If you don’t make three point shots, zones look good,” Head Coach Mike Jarvis said. “If you don’t make layups and free throws zones look better,”.
When the game began, it looked like it was going to be the Johnnies might as the Red Storm jumped out to a 23-16 lead with 9:53 remaining in the first half. But looks can be deceiving, as the Red Storm went on a five minute scoring drought and let the Friars come back to tie the game at 25 with 4:00 remaining.
The teams would trade baskets and Providence took the half-time lead, 32-31 as Erron Maxey stole the ball from Cook and went coast to coast and dunked it with authority.
The Red Storm almost came back to take the lead. Alpha Bangura’s three point play cut the deficit to 41-40 with 14:28 in the second half. But the Friars on threes from Abdul Mills, Maris Laksa and Chris Anrin went on a 13-2 run that spanned 7:07 and gave the Friars a 54-42 lead which would not let up as the closest St. John’s got was six at 57-51 with 4:08 left.
“Our problem is that we have too many guys waiting for others to do things, Jarvis said. There are certain guys that are waiting for him [Cook] to perform superhuman feats,”.
When the final buzzer sounded, the 27 game Alumni Hall winning streak had been snapped. The last time SJU lost at Alumni was January 12th, 1997 against West Virginia.
This is also the first time that the Friars swept the regular season series from SJU since 1996-1997. In that season Providence, coached by Pete Gillen and led by Jamel Thomas and Austin Croshere made the Elite Eight, before losing to eventual national champion Arizona. This season for the Friars has been a surprising and magical one so far. “All ten guys came in and contributed and that has been the key to our success,” Welsh said.
“They’re [Providence] a good team. We can’t take that for granted, they just came out and played hard,” Willie Shaw said following the game.
Next up for St. John’s are the Duke Blue Devils on Sunday, February 18th at Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils will be coming off a rare defeat. As St. John’s was getting defeated by Providence, Duke was upset by the Virginia Cavaliers 91-89. “We’d better be ready, it’s going to be interesting,” Jarvis said in reference to the Duke game.
The Big East Tournament is three weeks away and as the Red Storm continue to struggle, time may be running out for its NCAA tournament hopes.