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A stormy end for SJU vs. Providence Friars

But for the Johnnies, which came into Providence as one of the top defensive teams in the Big East and also one of the lowest scoring ones, the pace of the game was disastrous.The Friars shot 50 percent from the field and stole the game in the final minute, beating the Red Storm, 81-73, Saturday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The loss pulled Providence into a tie with St. John's for the 12th spot in the conference standings - the last spot to secure a berth in the Big East tournament.St. John's (10-10, 3-6) had the lead at halftime, 45-40, shooting 59.3 percent before the break. But coach Norm Roberts knew if his team kept playing Providence's run-and-gun style, his team would eventually succumb. His speech after the first half was simple: Get back to your identity and play a defensive game.But the talk fell on deaf ears."Well, obviously [the Friars] kept scoring," Roberts said. "So the message didn't get through on that."Roberts' team kept the scoring up to start the second half too. Junior guard Daryll Hill (16 points), marred in a nasty slump since a left knee injury, broke out of his funk right after the break. He scored on two straight baskets and, on the next possession, drove the lane and found senior Phil Missere (11 points) with a gorgeous wrap-around pass for a layup to give the Red Storm its largest lead - nine points with 17:20 to go."Daryll looked like the old Daryll tonight," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "He had that look in his eye that, 'I can take you off the dribble' [look]."So Welsh went back to what didn't work in the first half, but has worked against previous St. John's teams. After all, Providence (10-10, 3-6) has now beaten the team nine straight times."We couldn't guard them off the dribble," Welsh said. "So we went back to zone."It worked perfectly, but the game stayed close - there were 14 lead changes and 11 ties in total - until the final minute. Freshman Anthony Mason Jr. (12 points) hit a mid-range jumper from the left wing to cut the Providence lead to 74-73 with 53 seconds left. But Friars freshman Sharaud Curry came down the floor and drilled a pull-up jumper 11 seconds later.It got worse.Junior Lamont Hamilton (13 points) missed a short jumper in traffic on the next St. John's possession and PC forward Geoff McDermott got the rebounds. Roberts, logically, wanted a foul, but instead, the Friars pushed it up and Herbert Hill (17 points) laid it in, getting fouled in the process.He converted the free throw to give his team a 79-73 lead with 18 seconds left. A one-point lead turned into a six-point one in a little over 30 seconds and St. John's was done for."We just lost our focus," Hamilton said. "Our focus is defense."Reach contributing writer Marc Raimondi by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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