PROVIDENCE — Fresh off an impressive takedown of the nation’s fourth-ranked team and staring at a realistic return to the national rankings (top-20 too high?), Providence College found itself needing to subdue a very stubborn (Red) Storm.
For the sixth time in as many Big East tries, Ed Cooley’s adage of just being one point better than the other team came to fruition. Saturday saw PC finish three points in the clear as the Jared Bynum-less Friars held on for an 83-80 victory over St. John’s.
The sluggish affair that was witnessed by another sellout crowd (12,400) featured some late-game dramatics as the Friars needed to survive a few frazzling sequences on their way to staying perfect in league play.
PC should make its first appearance of the season when the Associated Press releases its Top 25 poll on Monday, as 6-0 in the Big East figures to be hard for voters to ignore.
Simply put, the close shave against the Red Storm was one these Friars had no chance of winning back in November but now can’t seem to lose. Providence hasn't dropped a game since Nov. 30 and will bask in the glow of a nine-game winning streak before returning to the Big East wars Saturday in Creighton.
"Really proud of our group in how we were just able to find a way to win,” Cooley said. “It was a game where our players and our program grew up with respect to how to deal with adversity. We would have been disconnected a month ago. We tell our players to trust what we’re doing and believe in one another.”
When Cooley speaks about weathering the storm, he means the Friars taking the court sans Bynum, who missed Saturday’s game with an abdominal strain he suffered early in the win against No. 4 Connecticut on Wednesday.
The guard is awaiting the results of an MRI. In his place, PC received positive contributions from Alyn Breed, who was inserted in the starting lineup, and Jayden Pierre, the true freshman who found himself out there for some tense moments after Breed fouled out with 43.1 seconds remaining.
The ball didn’t pop like it normally does when Bynum was out there. The Friars seemed to revert to their grind-it-out ways on offense, a move probably done to take some of the ballhandling pressure off Breed (14 points, five turnovers) and Pierre (six points).
Fortunately for Cooley, Devin Carter and Noah Locke were ready to carry the load on a day when Bryce Hopkins endured a rare off game.
Brought in as a knockdown shooter, Locke was 5 of 8 from beyond the arc on his way to finishing with a game (and season-high) 20 points. Carter’s ability to slash helped him to get to the free-throw line nine times (making eight) as he ended up with 19 points.
Ed Croswell put another Big East team in the torture chamber (14 points, nine rebounds) while Hopkins shook off some shooting woes to tally 10 points.
“It’s a long game and we just want to be there in the end … make a free throw or make a shot,” Cooley said.
There was a stretch early in the second half when PC appeared in control. A one-point deficit at halftime was wiped out as baskets from Carter (slam dunk), Hopkins (spin move) and Locke (three) came over a four-possession span.
Stretching the lead beyond four points proved a tall order as unlike last Wednesday’s win over UConn, the Friars couldn’t land the knockout blow against a St. John’s outfit that won the battle in the paint going away (52-34).
St. John’s (11-6, 1-5 Big East) never led over the final 19 minutes but were always lurking. Every time PC hit a shot that ignited the crowd, someone in a St. John’s uniform answered with a hard charge to the rim.
Even after Breed hit a pull-up jumper that put PC (14-3 overall) up three (77-74) with 2:03 left — Cooley called it the shot of the game — the Red Storm responded behind Mr. Double-Double. Joel Soriano’s hoop as part of a 16-point, 10-rebound outing made it a one-point game with 1:40 left.
Things weren't looking up after Croswell lost the handle coming out of a timeout with 34.9 seconds left and PC up 80-77. A layup from the Red Storm’s Andre Curbelo made it a one-point game once again before Carter added some breathing room with a 2-for-2 showing at the charity stripe with five seconds remaining.
Now up three, the Friars chose to send the Red Storm to the line with 4.2 seconds on the clock. Curbelo made the first but intentionally missed the second and was called for a violation when his attempt failed to hit the rim.
Croswell made it a three-point game with a 1 for 2 showing at the free-throw line with 2.9 seconds left as St. John’s didn’t get a shot off as time expired.
“I was really happy to be home today,” Cooley said.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03