St. John’s fends off Providence for sixth-straight win

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This is what a good team does to follow up a seismic upset victory.

It builds a big lead against an inferior opponent. When the desperate opponent rallies, it doesn’t wilt and doesn’t take its foot off the gas.

St. John’s showed Saturday it is a good team, winning its sixth straight, 92-81 over Providence at Alumni Hall.

There was no Villanova hangover and the Red Storm didn’t let a blown 17-point lead ruin the afternoon. When Providence ripped off a 15-2 run to go up by five early in the second half, the Johnnies buckled down, tightened up their defense and put together a big run of their own.

“I’m pretty sure there were comments like Villanova had a bad game and St. John’s took advantage of it, but I really feel like this team here is something special,” senior guard Rasheem Dunn said after St. John’s seventh win in eight games. “Everybody is on the same page. Like Coach always says, we’re in the hunt for something.”

Young stars Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie led the charge in the first half, combining to score 34 points before the break. Dunn (who had 13 points and equalled his career high with 10 assists), Dylan Addae-Wusu, Marcellus Earlington and Isaih Moore were integral in the second half, producing timely baskets.

Most of all, it was the defense, which forced nine turnovers and found a way to slow down the Friars’ overpowering center, Nate Watson, who managed just six points over the final 16 minutes after notching 24 up to that point.

With the victory, St. John’s (13-7, 7-6 Big East) is just now percentage points behind Connecticut for fifth place in the conference. The Johnnies backed up Wednesday’s massive upset of No. 3 Villanova and could receive top-25 votes on Monday after winning a fourth straight road contest in the league for the first time since 1999.

Alexander is slated to win the Big East Rookie of the Week honors for the third straight week after scoring a career-high 21 points and adding four assists. Champagnie poured in 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.

“I think this team fits the city of New York. It’s blue-collar, they play hard, they play exciting, they play fast,” coach Mike Anderson said. “It’s fun — and it sure is fun when you’re winning.”

Early in the second half was when the game felt like it was decided. Providence (9-10, 5-8) came out for the second half with its hair on fire, scoring 15 of 17 points for a five-point lead. But over the next 8:17, the Friars managed just three points. St. John’s outscored them, 20-3. Dunn started it with a jumper and scored eight points in the spurt. In the final minutes, Moore scored on three consecutive trips, twice on feeds from Dunn. Earlington and Addae-Wusu combined for 12 points in the second half, as the St. John’s bench outscored Providence’s unit a whopping 32-1.

“I thought that was the difference in the game,” Anderson said, referring to his depth.

Right now, positives are everywhere for St. John’s, from the bench to the starters, the veterans to the youngsters. This out-of-nowhere run is showing no signs of letting up.

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