PROVIDENCE, R.I. — St. John’s remains a troubling model of inconsistency. On Wednesday night, it followed the high point of its season with the low point. For an encore to Sunday’s thrilling comeback win over No. 17 Villanova, it got absolutely embarrassed by previously last-place Providence.
St. John’s was an utter fiasco in the 78-59 Big East loss before 9,872 at Dunkin’ Donuts Center as it permitted the Friars to sweep the season series. The Red Storm (19-8, 7-7) has played best against good competition, going 3-1 against Villanova and No 11 Marquette, while going 4-6 against teams with a conference record of .500 or worse.
“Essentially [that was] the best and the worst right next to each other,” Mustapha Heron said. “I'm definitely surprised any time on my team that we don't bring it. Definitely surprised, but it happens and you've got to move on to the next one.”
Marvin Clark II, the key senior and one of the team’s leaders, was the poster boy in the underwhelming effort. He drew his fourth foul with 17:28 left in the game, yapped at the official and got called for a technical to foul out. He never stopped chattering as he went to the bench and less than a half-minute later he was called for another technical from the bench and was ejected.
Heron said Clark apologized to the team afterward. Coach Chris Mullin’s conversation with him was much shorter. He said he told Clark, “You didn’t show up.” The response? “Nothing,” Mullin said. “What are you going to say? It wasn’t a question. It was a statement.”
There were plenty of lowlights from the carnage? St. John’s had its second lowest point total to the 56 it scored in the 14-point loss to the Friars on Feb. 8 at Madison Square Garden. Leading scorer Shamorie Ponds didn’t score until a driving layup with 14:57 to play that cut the Providence margin to 13 and he equaled a season-low with four points. The Storm was pounded on the glass by 44-35 and the Friars had 13 points on 10 offensive rebounds. And St. John’s had its third-worst shooting game of the season, making just 36 percent from the floor.
Ponds scored 11 on Sunday, but made just two of 14 shots. Asked if Ponds is healthy, Mullin took a long pause before saying “yes” and then added “you’d have to ask him.”
The way that Providence exploited its size advantage reminded Mullin of the teams’ first meeting. “We didn’t put any imprint on the game at all,” he said. “They dominated us physically, start-to-finish.”
LJ Figueroa had 16 points but needed to take 19 shots to get them and Justin Simon and Marcellus Earlington each scored 10 for the Storm. Nate Watson had 21 points and nine rebounds and Harlem product Alpha Diallo had 16 points and 11 rebounds for Providence (15-12, 5-9).
The effort also is a failure in the team’s stated goal of trying to finish strong and to approach every game as it has with the contests against Villanova and Marquette. The idea was to stop playing down to teams the bottom half of the conference standings.
“We talk about it every day: Just come in every day and show up with a consistent effort [and] just try to play hard,” Heron said. “Today we didn't have that.”
St. John’s was in a 9-0 right out of the gate by missing its first eight shots and committing three turnovers. It managed to get a 12-point margin to three before falling back into a 34-26 halftime deficit. After Clark fouled out things started to crater for St. John’s. Providence ran its lead up to 28 at 74-46, before substituting heavily in the last four minutes.
“We could have gotten back in the game. End of the half we were at three and they pushed it to eight. We came out in the second half and were passive,” Mullin said. “It’s hard to understand, hard to figure out. We’ve got to put it behind us. We’ve got four games left. We’ve got to regroup and play a good game on Saturday [against Seton Hall]. That’s the most important thing.”