With stellar point guard Posh Alexander out with a right thumb sprain, St. John’s spent 20 minutes on Wednesday night looking like a team feeling sorry for itself. Then, after trailing Providence by 11 points at halftime, the Red Storm looked capable, resourceful and brilliant.
Rasheem Dunn and Greg Williams Jr. turned up their games to counter the absence of Alexander and inspired St. John’s to stage a tremendous comeback for a 81-67 Big East win at Carnesecca Arena. It keeps hope alive for the Storm (15-10, 9-9) to earn a top-five finish in the standings and a bye into the quarterfinals of next week’s conference tournament at the Garden.
St. John’s swept the season series from the Friars (12-12, 8-10) for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
"This win tells you about the character of our team – they stayed together when they faced adversity," coach Mike Anderson said. "It took all of our basketball team to [compensate] when you lose a guy like Posh. . . . They all did it."
"I missed games with a concussion at the beginning of the season and Julian [Champagnie] was out at the beginning of the season," Dunn said. "Guys stepping up has been one of the narratives of our season."
Dunn had 18 of his season-high 21 points in the second half, shooting 7-for-8 after halftime,and Williams Jr. had 13 of his 15 points in the second half to lead St. John’s rally. In the first half, the two had totaled five points, shooting 2-for-13, and the Red Storm trailed 41-30 at the break.
Champagnie had 16 points and 10 rebounds, his seventh double-double, and Isaih Moore had 10 points and 11 rebounds. When Moore was on the floor, the Storm outscored Providence by 26 points.
Nate Watson had 19 points and David Duke had 16 points for Providence.
The heart of the comeback was a scintillating 18-4 run over a seven-minute span in which Dunn and Williams Jr. looked as good as they have all season. Early in it, Williams drove through the Friars for a dunk and then made a steal on the ensuing possession and turned it into a three-pointer. Late in the run Dunn turned a pair of turnovers into layups and had all three of his assists. When he found Dylan Addae-Wusu cutting to the basket for a layup, the Storm was ahead 58-53.
"It was our defense that starts our offense and it was much better in the second half," Dunn said. "I felt [Providence] started to look tired. They looked like ‘they just keep coming at us, they just keep coming at us.’"
From the outset, Alexander’s absence was noticeable. In the first half, St. John’s didn’t play as fast a pace as usual, failed to hurry Providence into turnovers and didn’t apply enough pressure on the ball when the Friars set up their half-court offense. The Storm trailed by 11 at the half after Providence shot 50% from the floor and the Friars made only three turnovers against the St. John’s press.
"In the first half, they executed anything they wanted," Anderson said. "We came back out [of halftime] with a much better sense of urgency."
Asked if he got vocal with the Red Storm at halftime, Anderson paused before just saying "yes." Asked to elaborate, he replied "that cannot be repeated."