St. John's senior class members failed for the fourth time to win a game in the Big East Tournament Thursday at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm swept the regular-season series from No. 23 Providence, but the Friars took their revenge by beating St. John's for the second straight year in the quarterfinals, 74-57.
Now, the question is whether St. John's seniors will get into the NCAA Tournament. Their 21-11 resume includes a 10-8 record in the conference with the second-best RPI rating and an 11-2 non-conference mark in which the losses were to Duke and Gonzaga, top 10 teams that figure to be first or second seeds.
But the picture is complicated by the way the Red Storm finished the regular season with a 105-68 loss at No. 4 Villanova before losing in humbling fashion to Providence (22-10). None of St. John's seniors scored in double figures as Phil Greene had nine and D'Angelo Harrison (3-for-15 shooting), Sir'Dominic Pointer and Jamal Branch each had seven. Sophomore Rysheed Jordan led the way with 18 points for St. John's, which shot only 18-for-58 (31.3 percent),
Asked if he's nervous about Selection Sunday, Greene said, "No, not at all. We lost to two good teams that both are ranked in the top 25. We've got a body of work. We played well in 21 wins and had some good wins over top 100 teams. So I think we're going to be fine.''
Coach Steve Lavin noted the Red Storm was without injured Branch and Chris Obekpa in the loss to Villanova on Saturday. Lavin defended his seniors' record in the Big East tourney, saying, "I don't think it's them. I'm a poor conference tournament coach.''
In five seasons at St. John's, Lavin's only conference tournament win came against Rutgers his first year. In his seven seasons as coach at UCLA, the Pac-12 held only two tournaments. In 2002, UCLA lost to Cal in the first round but reached the NCAA Sweet 16. In 2003, the Bruins upset No. 1 Arizona before losing to Oregon in Lavin's final game.
Reminded of those two wins, Lavin smiled and said, "So, it was a couple wins, but overall, we struggled.''
Obviously, the coach was deflecting the pressure on his team after it laid a huge egg.
First-team all-Big East selections Kris Dunn (17 points, 11 assists) and LaDontae Henton (20 points, 12 rebounds) led the Friars. Tyler Harris of Dix Hills added 15 points.
After taking a 7-0 lead on a Harrison three-pointer with 17:10 left in the half, the Red Storm missed 15 straight field-goal attempts before Branch made a layup with 7:05 left. By that time, Providence had a 28-13 lead, scoring 18 unanswered points at the start of that 10-minute span. St. John's was outrebounded 49-36 and outscored on the fast break 15-4.
"Any time you play against a transition team, you want to get them to play against a set defense,'' Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "If you let St. John's loose, especially in this building, you're in trouble.''
Lavin said the impression of St. John's as an excellent transition team isn't supported by the metrics. In any case, the Red Storm now must focus on preparing for the anticipated NCAA bid. As Lavin said, "I'm not concerned to the point where I don't think this team is still capable of doing something special in the postseason.''