“We couldn’t play any worse defensively,” Providence College men’s basketball coach Ed Cooley surmised after watching St. John’s score 51 second half points to erase an 11-point halftime deficit and take an 81-67 Big East Conference win Wednesday night in Queens, N.Y.
The 26 points of offense through the second half of play was not enough for the PC (12-12), the Friars shooting just 10-for-29 from the floor, mis-firing on all nine 3-point shots (4-for-23 overall), making just three shots from the floor over the final 10 minutes.
PC allowed St. John’s to shoot 55 percent from the floor (16-for-29) over the final 20 minutes with Rasheem Dunn (21 points), Julian Champagnie (16 points) and Greg Williams (15) scoring at will.
“That was inexcusable,” Cooley said. “That was an absolute (expletive) effort. Our players should feel embarrassed based upon the way that we played in the second half. That performance was not very good.”
Nate Watson (19 points on 9-for-13 shootings), David Duke (16 points) and Jared Bynum (13) were tops on the PC scoring sheet, but A.J. Reeves shot just 3-for-11 and Noah Horchler went 1-for-5, PC committing eight second half turnovers.
The Friars were battling the most explosive offensive team (79.2 ppg, No, 1) and the most deficient defensive team (.774, dead last) in the Big East in St. John’s.
“That was our poor play,” Cooley saying of Dunn scoring 18 second half points. “We picked the wrong day to play that poor defensively for 20 minutes.”
PC gained a 41-30 lead by halftime by shooting 50 percent (18-for-36) from the floor and committing just three turnovers. Duke (13 points on 5-for-8 shooting) Bynum (nine points on 4-for-6 shooting) and Watson (eight points on 4-for-6 shooting) fueled the Friars.
Then the Friars went cold at both ends of the floor.
“Their (St. John’s) game plan didn’t change at all, we did a decent job against the press,” Cooley said.
Williams fueled a 13-2 Red Storm surge midway through the second half to take a 58-53 lead. Then Dunn scored eight points in an 11-0 St. John’s spree to break a 60-all tie with just under seven minutes left.
St. John’s was hampered without All-Big East Rookie of the Year candidate, freshman guard Posh Alexander (sprained thumb), and Champagnie, the sophomore forward, scoring just eight points after taking just six shots in the first half.
“The pace was the same game, but we turned the ball over a couple of times,” Cooley said. “They got some runouts on turnovers and we did not shoot the ball well in the second half. We’ve got to find a way to win.”
PC outscored the Red Storm 26-10 in the paint in the first half, while allowing St. John’s just two fast break points.
“They got second and third shots, I don’t think it was the pace — they just out-played us in the second half,” Cooley said. “They had way more urgency.”
Other than a pair of early four-point deficits, PC shot themselves into a 20-10 lead by hitting nine of 18 shots from the floor, both Duke and A.J. Reeves hitting 3-pointers.
After the Red Storm had tied the score at 28-all, PC outscored St. John’s 13-2 over the final five minutes of the half with Bynum and Duke hitting back-to-back 3-pointers.
The latter then fed Greg Gantt in low for two more points on the very next offensive possession.
“We’re a good basketball team when we want to be,” Cooley added. “We were lacksadasical, it wasn’t anything they did. We couldn’t play any worse defensively.”
St. John’s (15-10, 9-9) had lost three of its previous four games before meeting the Friars — wasting a 15-point lead at Butler, allowing Villanova to hit 11 3-pointers in a 23-point loss and allowing DePaul to shoot a season-best 63 percent, despite being a pre-game 11-point favorite.
PC and the Red Storm were meeting for the 118th time (the No. 2 most common foe), the series starting in 1927. St. John’s has an overall 64-54 edge in the series, 38-37 in Big East meetings. now having a 21-9 edge in the series in Queens.
“I’m very disappointed and normally I’m never this animated, but that one (loss) was on me, I’ve got to do a better job with this group,” Cooley said.