If St. John's established an identity during the first half of the season, it was as a team that couldn't finish late. Against Providence Thursday night at Carnesecca Arena, the Red Storm did all it could to rewrite that script, but the plot played out in excruciatingly heartbreaking fashion. Max Hooper's turnover with 21 seconds left in the second overtime set up the basket by Bryce Cotton that gave the Friars an 84-83 victory.
The Red Storm (9-7, 0-5 Big East) overcame a 13-point first-half deficit and fought back to lead Providence (12-5, 2-2) by two points near the end of regulation, by four points in the first overtime and by four points in the second overtime. But St. John's let all three leads slip away.
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The most confounding came in the second overtime when JaKarr Sampson fouled Tyler Harris with 25 seconds left. Harris, a sophomore from Dix Hills who had 18 points, made both free throws to cut the Storm's lead to 83-82.
St. John's coach Steve Lavin replaced Sampson (16 points, eight rebounds) with Hooper, who had played only six minutes to that point and is known as a three-point shooter, not a ballhandler. "On the last possession, we knew they were going to foul," Lavin said. "We put in our best shooter."
As good as Hooper is from three-point range, he's only 2-for-4 from the foul line this season. He caught the inbounds pass and covered up the ball as the Friars swarmed him. Cotton tied him up, and the possession arrow gave Providence the ball.
Asked if he knew the arrow favored the Friars, Sir'Dominic Pointer said, "We were aware. We had to be strong with the ball, but we went into a ball not thinking and they got it."
The Friars inbounded to Cotton, who flipped up an acrobatic, driving shot that went in for an 84-83 lead with 9.8 seconds left. Cotton, who had 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, missed a foul shot, but a layup attempt by St. John's Phil Greene (15 points) bounced off the rim just before the final buzzer.
Lavin said St. John's got the look it wanted but not the storybook ending. "It was perfect . . . exactly what we drew up," he said. "They all got to their spots."
Lavin used leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison (14 points, 4-for-15 shooting) as a decoy on the wing in order to use Greene's speed going to the basket. If the defense helped off Harrison, Greene could have kicked it to him.
It was a hard-to-swallow ending for the Red Storm, which got 12 points from Orlando Sanchez and 11 each from Pointer and God'sgift Achiuwa.
"The kids," Lavin said, "showed a lot of heart and just came up short."