The season has taken a wrong turn at St. John’s for Mustapha Heron and Ian Steere. It had already taken a wrong turn for the Red Storm once the nonconference schedule gave way to Big East play.
But after dropping three straight and nine of their first 11 conference games, they found a way to beat Providence, 80-69, Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
“It feels great to win,” LJ Figueroa said. “I feel like we’re going to build off this win, get momentum and keep it rolling.”
Figueroa led the Red Storm with 19 points. Julian Champagnie contributed 14. Rasheem Dunn had 13, and Marcellus Earlington added 12. But defense really won this game. The Red Storm forced 24 turnovers, leading to 22 points, and they blocked seven shots.
“When our defense is intense, it can create some offense for us,” coach Mike Anderson said.
St. John’s had gone a promising 11-2 in nonconference games, including wins over West Virginia and Arizona. The team is now 14-11 overall and 3-9 in a conference that has five of its 10 teams ranked in the Top 25.
Anderson didn’t have his second-leading scorer to help against the Friars. St. John’s listed Heron as out indefinitely but issued a statement that said it’s “likely” the 6-5 senior guard will miss the rest of the season. Heron aggravated a right ankle injury Saturday night at Creighton.
“The loss of Heron is huge, obviously,” Figueroa said.
Heron was averaging 13.8 points.
“I think they responded well,” Anderson said.
Anderson didn’t have the seldom-used Steere on his bench because the 6-9 sophomore forward was suspended indefinitely. Anderson said in a statement that it was “for failing to meet the standards expected from a member of our basketball program.”
The Friars (13-12, 6-6) cut a 13-point deficit to 51-47 on a layup by Alpha Diallo, who delivered 19 points and 17 rebounds. Then Earlington sandwiched two threes around a Figueroa free throw, and the margin was up to 11.
“It felt great,” Earlington said. “I’ve been kind of struggling with my shooting this year.”
After Figueroa buried his fourth three and a free throw on a technical, St. John’s led 69-54 with 4:54 left.
Providence kept coming, cutting it to six on a Diallo jumper with 1:06 remaining. But that’s as close as it got.
The Red Storm had gone up by 13 twice in the first half, but it was down to eight at the break and six within the first 30 seconds of the second half. St. John’s built the lead back up to 40-27.
After the Friars cut it to eight, the Red Storm pushed it up to 13 for the fourth time. But Providence quickly chipped it down to 47-42 with a 10-2 run.
The lead shot up to 11, then went down to four.
“I feel like we fought tonight,” Earlington said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games and we just have to learn how to win, and today we did that.”