Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By BRENDAN McGAIRSpecial to ZAGSBLOGPROVIDENCE, R.I. — Steve Lavin has a message for the Big East – one regarding the Providence College squad that squeezed out a last-second 62-59 win over the D’Angelo Harrison-less St. John’s Red Storm Saturday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
“They are the hottest team in our league other than Georgetown,” was the tip of the cap extended by Lavin, whose team’s NCAA Tournament chances took a major hit with the loss.
Given up for dead after ending January with a 2-7 conference record, PC reversed its fortunes in February with five wins in six opportunities. With the calendar flipped to college’s basketball most pulsating and heart-stopping month, the Friars kicked off March by evening their Big East mark at 8-8 – same as St. John’s and Cincinnati.
If the Big East Tournament kicked off today, PC would enter as the No. 8 seed based on tiebreakers. St. John’s would be the ninth seed followed by Cincinnati at No. 10. If Providence can win its final two games – Tuesday at home versus Seton Hall and Saturday at Connecticut – it would head to New York City with 10 conference victories against eight defeats.
Such an accomplishment didn’t seem possible two months ago when PC was in the midst of a five-game losing streak that featured stinging losses to Brown and DePaul. As head coach Ed Cooley pointed out, the Friars have come a long way in a relatively short period of time.
“I didn’t realize that we started the year 0-3 in the league until someone just told me,” Cooley said. “It’s a credit to the guys and their perseverance and believing one another … it’s the little things that help you win and I thought it’s the little things that got us over the hump (on Saturday).”
It doesn’t hurt to have a weapon like Bryce Cotton in the arsenal. A leading candidate for First-Team All-Big East honors, Cotton netted 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. The junior sniper was at his best down the stretch, scoring 16 of PC’s final 20 points that was highlighted by a rare four-point play sequence that put Providence up for good, 57-55, with 3:46 remaining.
“Even if you contain him for stretch, he’s always about to get hot,” said Lavin about Cotton coming to life after managing five points on 2-of-7 shooting in the first half. “He’ll start torching the nets.”
Lavin said that not much separated his team from Providence, and to a degree he was right. The second half featured four ties and 11 lead changes with St. John’s having several chances late to tie the game.
Trailing 61-59 inside 10 seconds remaining, Sir’Dominic Pointer made a move down the lane that featured plenty of contact but no whistle. After Cotton made 1-of-2 at the free-throw line, the Red Storm took over with 8.3 seconds left. With PC’s pressure-defense functioning at a high level, the best St. John’s could hope for was an off-balanced 3-pointer by prized freshman JaKarr Sampson. The bid was not even close to being on target as the final horn sounded.
Sampson finished with 22 points on 9-of-20 shooting with Pointer contributing 13 points and 10 rebounds. Aiding PC’s cause was redshirt junior Kadeem Batts, who had 15 points and nine rebounds.
Naturally, Lavin was asked if having Harrison down the stretch would have helped St. John’s chances. The talented but troubled sophomore guard was suspended for the rest of the season Friday. “What I try to do is coach the kids I have. D’Angelo has been suspended and this is the group I’m coaching,” said the coach. “I’m not thinking about outcomes when I’m coaching this group of kids. This is my basketball team right now and I’m moving forward with this group.”
St. John’s swings back into action Tuesday night at Notre Dame before closing out the regular season Saturday at Madison Square Garden against Marquette.
Photo credit: Jim McIsaac
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.