Friars prevail with effective zone defense, Johnnies’ misery from downtown proves costly

By Jake Zimmer

Twitter: @JakeZimmer12

Providence- Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal tweeted in the first half between St. John’s and Providence that we had a “rat game” on our hands. Somehow, any other attempt to describe Wednesday’s tilt at the Dunkin Donuts Center just fails.

Providence picked up their fourth BIG EAST win over St. John’s – in a game that was nearly entirely controlled by the Friars, St. John’s somehow managed to stick around long enough to become a potential threat to reclaim the lead.  After a long jumper from Luwane Pipkins, it was Marcellus Earlington’s mid-range basket that cut the Red Storm cut the Providence lead to 2 points at the 27 second mark. The Johnnies couldn’t score after that point.

As we recall from our #InsideTheNumbers preview for the matchup, Providence’s key to the game was to slow down the tempo; as the Johnnies’ efforts before Wednesday yielded them the 9th-fastest offensive pace of all Division I teams.  It proved to be tough to get acclimated to the Johnnies’ pressure on both sides of the ball, as Providence turned the ball over 3 times in the first four minutes of the game.

While not exhibiting too much of it in his own team, Ed Cooley certainly knows this style of basketball all-too-well: “That’s a typical BIG EAST game,” he told us after the game.  “There were a lot of bodies flying around. We were fortunate to make a couple of big shots late.”

Cooley claims he was able to crack the code on how to beat a high-octane team like the Johnnies. “When you can make some 3’s, you’re able to stretch the lead a little bit against this team,” he remarked.  He also attributes their success to their near-perfect execution of zone defense: “it paid dividends.” 

 St. John’s, who was a slight underdog coming in, knew it had to be nearly perfect in every category to knock off the Friars. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t.

Head coach Mike Anderson had a few thoughts on why this might’ve been the case. “I thought we were very careless with the basketball,” he remarked in his post-game press conference.  “We turned the ball over too much.  We wanted to play at a faster pace. I thought at times we did, but it wasn’t enough.”

The Red Storm faithful took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with many decisions by players & coaches alike, but no Johnnie more mentioned than junior LJ Figueroa.  In what will prove to be one of the more alarming statistics of the night, although he led the way for St. John’s with 12, Figueroa accounted for 10 of the team’s 16 misses from beyond-the-arc.

“We did a pretty good job hanging around in the first half, but we had missed opportunities to take advantage of the momentum,” said Anderson.  One cannot reasonably assume he meant anyone other than Figueroa.

In a game of seemingly endless questionable decisions, St. John’s – down 3 at the time – had the ball next to their own bench with 10.2 seconds on the clock. Rather than attempt a 3-pointer for the tie, they settled with a midrange jumper for a double-teamed Mustapha Heron.   The Friars, as Ed Cooley describes, were instructed not to foul unless the ball made its way to the backcourt. It paid off, as Heron’s shot was well-over the rim.

Many criticized the Johnnie’s decision to force a foul in the double-team, but Mike Anderson says this was his plan all along. “We were trying to get an attack to the basket and then trying to have someone spot up…maybe get a foul called, maybe get an and-one. But we didn’t get that.”

 In stark contrast to the Johnnies, who have one of the deepest rosters in basketball, Providence played with only 5 starters and two reserves this evening. The Friars were without senior Emmitt Holt & sophomore AJ Reeves – both major contributors to the roster this year – as both suffered injuries earlier in the week. “There was a 0% chance they were playing,” said Cooley.

Alpha Diallo’s veteran leadership led the way for Providence, as he netted 19 and added in 4 rebounds.  Ed Cooley loves what he saw from Diallo: “I thought Alpha carried us throughout the game – offensively and defensively. That’s the type of player we’re accustomed to seeing.” He went on to say that he expects this play from Diallo. “When seniors do good things, I’m not surprised. They’ve played in a lot of games, and you expect that.”

PHOTO: Alpha Diallo/