Julian Champagnie of St. John's gets pressured by Jared Bynum...

Julian Champagnie of St. John's gets pressured by Jared Bynum  of Providence during the second half of an NCAA men's basketball game at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday. Credit: James Escher

The days may be growing longer, but time appears to be growing shorter for a St. John’s breakthrough.

The Red Storm nearly had one on Tuesday night against 15th-ranked Providence. With sensational sophomore Posh Alexander turning in perhaps his finest performance, St. John’s raced past the Friars twice in the second half to grab narrow leads and bring the electric crowd 4,781 to near-deafening thrall. But both times it followed with mistakes that let Providence take it back and the Storm suffered a deflating 86-82 Big East defeat.

St. John’s (11-9, 3-6) has now lost six of its last eight games and is a far cry from the touted team that conference coaches tabbed to finish fourth in a preseason poll. It was the first loss on campus this season for the Storm.

"That’s a disappointed locker room in there," St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. "It’s frustrating. I thought this team would be a little further along. They’re working hard. We have guys that are starting to step up and play. . . . We’re ‘almost,’ but you can’t keep being ‘almost.’ We’ve got to take that step and get over the hump."

Alexander was by far the best player on the court finishing with a career-high 29 points on 13-for-20 shooting and a career-high 12 assists. Both times that St. John’s grabbed the lead it was on a burst that he willed it through. However, what followed was not pretty.

Alexander scored six points and assisted on a pair of buckets for five more in a 19-7 run that was capped by Dylan Addae-Wusu dishing to Esahai Nyiwe for a dunk and a 51-49 lead with 13:49 to play. The Storm’s next four possessions ended with a pair of misses and a pair of turnovers as Providence scored 10 unanswered points.

Later Alexander started a 10-2 run by finding Aaron Wheeler for a dunk and then capped with the last five points. He leapt over two taller Friars to tap in a missed Wheeler three-pointer to knot the score at 72> and then cut for a layup off a feed from Joel Soriano for a 74-72 lead with 3:34 to play. St. John’s turned the ball over on each of its next three possessions — once each by Alexander, Julian Champagnie and Nyiwe — as the Friars (19-2, 10-1) scored six unanswered points.

Al Durham was fouled four times and went 8-for-8 at the free-throw line to seal it. The Friars finished 27 for 33 (82%) at the foul line, while St. John’s was 4 of 11 (36%).

The Storm was within 82-80 on Addae-Wusu’s three-pointer with 13 seconds to play, but had to foul Durham.

"We made some bad decisions down the stretch and they turned into baskets on the other side," Alexander said. "We’ve got to get better at taking care of the ball . . . and making smart decisions."

Wheeler had 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting and Addae-Wusu had 10 points including three three-pointers for the Storm. Leading scorer Champagnie, who missed 8:46 of the first half after taking a an inadvertent blow above his right eye that required stitches, was limited to single-digit points for the fourth straight game, totaling eight on 4-for-11 shooting.

Jared Bynum scored 19, Nate Watson 16 and Durham and Noah Horchler 14 apiece for Providence.

"It’s like he’s kind of second-guessing himself," Anderson said of Champagnie. "It’s all about confidence. He’s got to continue to play with the swagger that put him in [his] position."

St. John’s trailed 40-32 after Alexander fouled Bynum on a three-pointer with less than one second left in the half and he made all three free throws.

"When you get guys playing that hard, it gets frustrating not winning these types of games," Wheeler said. "When it comes down to the wire we’ve got to figure out how to finish off these close games."


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