Thursday, January 11, 2024

St. John's Holds Off Carter, Providence At Raucous Garden


Chris Ledlum making a basket late in the first half. Photo by Jason Schott.

The St. John's Red Storm, in what Head Coach Rick Pitino called "a great learning experience for our basketball team," raced out to an 11-point halftime lead before holding on for a 75-73 win over the Providence Friars on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

St. John's is now 4-1 in Big East Conference play, their best mark since 2000-01, and they are tied with UConn and Seton Hall atop the Big East standings. They are also 12-4 overall, which already bears watching because 20 wins is the benchmark you need to reach to make March Madness, something recent St. John's teams had issues with because they would have maddeningly slow starts in conference play.

Just as they had done in their win over Villanova Saturday. St. John's raced out to a 10-0 lead. Despite a few flourishes from Providence, St. John's led 40-29 at halftime, as they shot 56.7 percent from the field (17-30), as Daniss Jenkins had 11 points and Jordan Dingle chipped in nine off the bench.

The second half was a different story, as Devin Carter began to heat up, as he poured in nine points amidst a 16-4 run in the opening five-and-a-half minutes to give Providence a 45-44 lead.

By this point, the Friars faithful began to make their presence known, as they made up a big chunk of the 11,832 on hand at The Garden. That would make the final 14:30 of the game as raucous an atmosphere as a St. John's game there has had in years, what they envisioned when they hired Pitino, who by this point had loosened his tie, noteworthy since he's one of the few coaches left who still wears a suit.

Providence taking the lead appeared to be the kick in the pants the Red Storm needed, as they responded with a 13-2 run capped by a Jenkins three-pointer with 9:29 left that made it 57-47.

The scene during a timeout with St. John's up 57-47, when The Garden crowd was revved up. Photo by Jason Schott.

It appeared that the Red Storm had it in hand in the final minute when Joel Soriano drained a pair of free throws with 37 seconds left that made it 74-69. 

However, Providence, and Carter, who had 19 points in the second half and 27 in the game, was not done yet. After being fouled on a three-point attempt, he made the first two of his three attempts at the charity stripe, and after missing the third one, Rafael Castro nabbed an offensive rebound with 22.8 seconds left. Carter then raced around the Red Storm defense for a layup with 9.8 seconds left that made it a one-point game, 74-73.

Brady Dunlap, who was nursing an ankle injury throughout the game, was fouled on the inbounds with 6.7 seconds left, and he missed both of his free throw attempts. 

RJ Luis Jr. nabbed a crucial offensive rebound with 4.7 seconds left, and he was fouled by Carter. That was the Providence sharpshooter's fifth of the night, so he fouled out. 

Luis buried one of two free throws to make it 75-73, and Providence raced to the other end, with Jayden Pierre taking a deep three-point attempt that fell short.

St. John's was led by Joel Soriano, who had 16 points on 4-for-8 shooting, and he was 8-11 from the charity stripe, with seven rebounds and an assist. Daniss Jenkins matched him with 16 points, as he went 6-12 from the field, and an impressive 4-5 on three-pointers, with eight assists and four rebounds. RJ Luis Jr. had 12 points (3-7 FG, 6-8 free throws), with eight rebounds, and Brady Dunlap and Jordan Dingle each chipped in nine points.

Providence was led by Devin Carter, who had 31 points, including 23 in the second half, on 11-19 shooting, including 2-6 on three-pointers and 7-12 from the free throw line, with 13 rebounds, four steals, and two assists.

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media after the win over Providence and he opened with this: "I thought tonight was a great learning experience for our basketball team. I don't think we could have played better in the first 18 minutes of the first half. I told them after the game, you have to understand why you could have potentially lost this game by taking the shots that you took. But you have to give credit where credit is due, [Devin] Carter, by himself, was tougher than our entire team. 31 points, 13 rebounds from a guard - he was brilliant, great, four steals. One of the better performances that I've seen, and we defended him fairly well in the first half. But took a lot of bad shots. It's the first time we've taken challenged shots; we were 4-for-15, we want to keep it under six, and we took 15, so it was a great learning experience.

I really believe this, because I've been around this game a long time. If we had won by 25, we would have gone into Creighton (this Saturday) and just got our asses handed to us. So, this was great for our team to understand if you rebound like that, you take challenged shots like that, and you allow a guard to rebound like that, you are going to lose some close ones, so it was a great learning experience where you can win and learn fast, but we did a lot of great things in the first half, and the second half, due to Providence's brilliant play, we did a lot of poor things, but you know, overall, in the first half, when you shoot 56 percent from the field and 45 from the three, you're doing a lot of good things, and then the second half, 37 and 28 because of the shot selection that we took. These two guys (Jenkins and Soriano) played well, not great; they played well. They've played well all year, but they've got to do more, and they will.

On RJ Luis' late offensive rebound: "RJ is a great talent who is going to give me a nervous breakdown because he, like throwing the ball off the guy's rear end on an inbounds pass, some of what he does is really going to age me. I'm very young for my age (71), but coaching RJ this year has made me 90 years of age. I'm close to Louie right now, very close," referring to Lou Carnesecca, who just turned 99 years old. "But he's a great talent, that rebound saved the game, but he was told not to let the man go by him on the inbounds pass and he let him go by him. He's gonna learn; if he's a student of the game, I believe someday down the road when he heals with the shins at practices, after next year, he has a great chance of being a first round draft pick.

On Providence Head Coach Kim English: "I have to tell you, the guy who coached against me tonight is absolutely fabulous. His team plays like they haven't eaten in a week. You know, my guys are at the buffet every hour. This league is full of great coaches."

On assessing his St. John's team, and Joel Soriano: "I'm pissed off at my guys right now; it's okay because you can get upset when you win and you learn a lot of lessons, but they played great. I have very high aspirations for them, very high goals for them and I don't want them to do the things they did tonight in terms of taking challenged shots and doing those things. They're intelligent. [Joel Soriano] is the most lovable young man I have ever coached...I'm trying to make him so much better than he is just by getting on him constantly. I want him to get 25 or 30 rebounds in games. Is that possible? I don't know but I want him to try and do that because he is such an amazing young man, one of the finest I've ever met in my lifetime, and I want so much for him. He is one of the guys, either one, two or three, early in the season who should be the best player in the league. I want him to be even better than that. I don't want anyone to think about rebounding when he is in that area."

On St. John's first Big East game at The Garden: "Carnesecca is an amazing home-court advantage. I never knew that because I remember playing there and winning by one point, but I never remembered...We want to mix it up. The Garden is where everyone dreams of playing...I tear up every time the starting lineups happen because of my memories of Madison Square Garden, not only as the Knicks assistant, Knick head coach, winning two back-to-back Big East titles, signing my scholarship papers to UMass on The Garden floor - to me, it's a magical place...It's 'The World's Most Famous Arena' and we're excited to be here."

Photo by Jason Schott.

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