GAME NOTES: The quarterfinal round of the Big East Conference Tournament continues at Madison Square Garden with a matchup featuring the fourth-seeded Providence Friars taking on the fifth-seeded St. John's Red Storm.
The winner of this game will move on to face either Villanova or Seton Hall in the semifinal round of the tournament on Friday.
St. John's enters the Big East postseason having won its last two games of the regular season, including a 91-90 double-overtime victory over Marquette. The Red Storm have won eight of their last 10 overall, and went 10-8 in the league this season.
Providence started the year on a strong note, winning 10 of its first 12 games. But the Friars stumbled a bit in conference play, going 10-8 in the Big East. Providence snapped a three-game win streak in the team's season finale with an 88-73 loss at Creighton.
St. John's leads the all-time series between the two teams, 58-44. The two squads split the season series, with Providence winning at St. John's in double overtime, and the Red Storm beating the Friars by 10 in Rhode Island.
Marquette went into the intermission against St. John's on Saturday with a one-point advantage, but the Red Storm kept pace in the second half and tied the game up at the end of regulation. Each team netted nine points in the first overtime period, and St. John's narrowly edged out the Golden Eagles in the second overtime, 10-9. Rysheed Jordan hit a free throw with 19 seconds left in the second extra session for the one-point advantage and the ultimate win. JaKarr Sampson, D'Angelo Harrison and Jordan all netted 20 points in the victory for St. John's, while Phil Greene IV chipped in 11 points. Chris Obekpa pulled down a team-high nine rebounds, and Jordan added six assists to his stat line.
The Red Storm have a handful of players that will contribute on a nightly basis, and a core group of role players who can step up on any given night. Led by Harrison's 17.6 ppg average, the Red Storm are netting 72.6 ppg on the season and giving up just 66.6 ppg to opponents defensively. Sampson adds 12.8 ppg for St. John's, and tops the squad with a 6.1 rpg mark. Obekpa, a defensive monster, has blocked 91 shots on the season. Jordan (9.4 ppg) leads the team with 87 assists on the year.
Creighton didn't have much of a problem taking down Providence in Omaha. The Bluejays pulled ahead, 45-22, at the end of the first half, which was plenty of a cushion to coast to victory. The Friars cut eight points off the Creighton lead in the second period, but the Bluejays still won by 15. Bryce Cotton scored a team-high 23 points for Providence in the loss, and dished out four assists. LaDontae Henton netted 21 points with seven rebounds, Kadeem Batts tallied a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Josh Fortune chipped in 12 points.
Cotton had a spectacular season for the Friars. The senior averaged 21.7 ppg and dished out a team-best 182 assists on the year. He played in all 31 games for the team, and connected on 85 percent of his free-throw attempts. Henton was second on the team in scoring with 13.6 ppg and added 7.3 rpg, and Batts checked in with 12.6 ppg and a team-leading 7.7 rpg average. Tyler Harris rounded out the double-digit scorers with 12.7 ppg. Providence averaged 73.1 ppg through 31 contests, and gave up 73.7 ppg to opponents.
Both teams have a solid group of players very capable of scoring in bunches, so this could very well be an offensive battle. The fact that the game is being played at Madison Square Garden helps the Red Storm significantly, since they played a slew of their regular season contests there. Both squads are on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, so they'll be gunning hard for a win. It will come down to which team plays better defense, and St. John's has the better numbers when it comes to opponents' scoring.
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