It was exactly the type of late-game letdown St. John's had desperately wanted to avoid. But indecision and a hurried offense proved to be the Red Storm's undoing in last night's Big East matchup against Providence.
In the absence of point guard Malik Boothe, who was out with a strained groin, St. John's never looked comfortable on offense, especially down the stretch, as the Friars defeated the Red Storm, 74-59, in front of 5,003 fans at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John's led by nine late in the first half and by 46-38 with 13:43 left, but the Friars tied it at 54 and wound up outscoring St. John's 24-5 in the final 7:53.
"It's a learning experience for my team," said St. John's coach Norm Roberts, who was optimistic that his players will rebound from the poor outing. "That's how the league is. If you don't come out and play exactly where you need to play, you can get beat."
It was the second straight conference loss for St. John's (10-4, 0-2), which dropped its opener to Georgetown on New Year's Eve. Justin Brownlee led St. John's with 14 points and D.J. Kennedy finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Providence's Sharaud Curry scored a season-high 26 points and had five assists and four steals for Providence (9-5, 1-1).
St. John's led 54-50 with just under eight minutes remaining, but Providence responded with a 14-0 run for a 64-54 lead, and the Red Storm never got closer than six after that.
The more St. John's tried to spark a comeback, the more it faltered. The Red Storm had 23 turnovers, resulting in 21 points for Providence. In the second half, the Storm shot 12-for-33 from the field (36.4 percent) and 1-for-4 from the free-throw line. Providence was 16-for-20 from the line after halftime and 23-for-29 overall to the Storm's 5-for-11.
"It comes back on us, the leaders of this team," said Kennedy, who had four turnovers. "We just have to be able to come through down the stretch. And today we didn't do that . . . We felt like we needed to come back so fast and I felt like that kind of hurt us today because we were just forcing stuff and rushing things."
Freshman Malik Stith (four points, five turnovers) and Dwight Hardy (six points, two turnovers) unsuccessfully tried to fill in for Boothe. "We missed him," Roberts said. ". . . It's a lot of pressure to put on a freshman point guard, and when we have to put Hardy at the point, that's not his game. It takes away from his offensive game because then he starts thinking about running the team, and it's hard for him.
"But those things happen,'' Roberts added. "You just have to fight through that and still play and do what you need to do. Especially at home."