The cornerstone of St. John’s strong start to this season was a smothering and impassioned defense. As it won 10 of 12, the Red Storm rose to place among the top 10 in the nation at defending shooters, getting blocked shots and forcing turnovers.
There wasn’t much of that on Thursday night when the Storm opened Big East play against Providence.
The Friars rode crisp passing for open looks on the three-point line and frequently beat St. John’s down the floor in a 94-72 romp before a sellout crowd of 5,602 at Carnesecca Arena.
Providence (10-4) was 11-for-16 on three-pointers in the second half alone and totaled 16 treys for the game. The Friars made six of nine outside the arc in a 24-6 run that turned a one-point game into a rout in about eight minutes. Storm coach Chris Mullin said “they made threes, moved the ball in transition; They basically — in the second half — took us apart, dominated us . . . They were scoring at will.”
But the 0-1 start heading into Sunday’s game at No. 23 Seton Hall could be the least of St. John’s worries. Leading scorer Shamorie Ponds hurt his right knee going down after a layup in the first half and was removed from the game with 9:10 to play. He wore a wrap on the knee as he sat on the bench and he will be reevaluated on Friday. The injury didn’t seem an issue immediately after he went down — Ponds finished the half with 14 points and shot 6-for-9 — but he scored just two more points before Mullin saw him as hampered.
Second-leading scorer Marcus LoVett didn’t play, missing his sixth straight game with a knee injury and there’s been no timetable for a return. The Storm plays a very tight rotation with only eight scholarship players. It’s won more than it’s lost without him, but a second key injury could make things dire quickly.
Marvin Clark II had 20 points and Bashir Ahmed 12 points for St. John’s (10-3), but Providence senior point guard Kyron Cartwright was by far the best player on the court as he went for 21 points, including five threes, and 15 assists. Rodney Bullock added 20 points and Jalen Lindsey 18 points.
Providence’s seniors have been in some key games with St. John’s, including the 2014 Big East quarterfinal that was a defacto play-in game for the NCAA Tournament and which St. John’s lost. Cartwright said, “this has been a rivalry game for us, a lot of chippy games and hard-fought battles — we had to come with the chip on our shoulder.”
Friars coach Ed Cooley said Cartwright “was as efficient and as good as anyone I’ve ever coached in a game.” And Mullin said, “Cartwright got anywhere he wanted to go and then broke us down from there. It’s something we’ve been good at and we were terrible tonight.”
As the game got away from St. John’s, the Friars got pretty demonstrative and Justin Simon said that “bothered me a little. You never want to have people come in here feeling comfortable. We let them get comfortable in the first half and that led to confidence in the second half.”
St. John’s didn’t play to its personality on Thursday and needs to get back to it fast as it faces Seton Hall and then No. 25 Creighton.
“We all need to go home and look at ourselves in the mirror,” Clark said, “and figure out what we can do to help our team get better.”