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.
St. John’s Scores Must-Win Over First-Place Providence
By CHRIS RUSSELL
NEW YORK – Having lost six of their last eight games entering Saturday’s tilt with first-place Providence, St. John’s faced a must-win situation in late January.
On the brink of seeing their NCAA tournament hopes fade into oblivion, the Johnnies answered with arguably their best performance of the year, knocking off the Friars 75-66 at Madison Square Garden.
Instead of being 2-6 in the Big East, St. John’s is now 14-7 overall and 3-5 in the league. They also swept the season series with Providence (16-6, 6-3).
“I’m proud of our team for delivering a hard-fought victory against the first-place team in our league,” head coach Steve Lavin said.
Sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan came into the contest as the center of controversy. Jordan took a one-game leave of absence in early January for family reasons and also got himself in hot water this week over a homophobic tweet, for which he has since apologized. Lavin made the game-time decision to not start Jordan in an effort to discipline the Philadelphia native.
Jordan, who entered the game as “day-to-day” due to a strained patella tendon, responded by scoring 14 of of his team’s 16 bench points, grabbing four rebounds and distributing four assists in 32 minutes of action for the Red Storm.
“I thought today [Jordan] had a bounce and his lateral foot speed looked good,” Lavin said. “He hit the big shot today and he played with poise and a purpose. I thought that he played well.”
Providence struggled adjusting to the flow of the game, shooting 41 percent from the field. St. John’s center Chris Obekpa was an anchor on the defensive end. He finished with 8 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks. Providence was led by Kris Dunn, who scored 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
St. John’s was led in scoring by senior guard Sir’Dominic Pointer’s 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting to go with 7 rebounds. Phil Greene IV posted 16 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. D’Angelo Harrison finished with 15 points and remains 3 shy of 2,000 career points for his carer.
“St. John’s played with a great sense of urgency today” said Providence head man Ed Cooley. “They’re a talented team and we got their best shot.”
A Loss to the Friars could have been a detrimental blow to the struggling Johnnies, who came into the contest having lost to Creighton, which currently ranks last in the Big East standings.
After reaching as high as No. 15 in the rankings, St. John’s is facing an uphill battle where it needs to produce at least nine league victories to be considered for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. To do so, Jordan will have to be a key contributor going forward.
Looking ahead on the schedule, the next four games for the Johnnies are all winnable. St. John’s will play at Butler (which beat Marquette Saturday), then has home games against Creighton and DePaul before paying a visit to Xavier, which lost a tough one to Seton Hall on Saturday.
“All along I’ve really liked this basketball team,” said Lavin. “From our 11-1 start to where we are now. I’ve never come off being bold on what a special group this is. Independent of a particular outcome of a game, I like the character, makeup and fiber of this team.
“What a special group this is. Maybe the best company I’ve been able to keep in my coaching career. We want to win every game and make the NCAA tournament.”
Photo: USA Today Sports
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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.