- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - Providence had better than good fortune. The Friars had Josh Fortune.

The sophomore guard scored a career-high 24 points on the day all-conference guard Bryce Cotton had one of the his worst games and Providence hung on for a 79-74 victory over St. John’s on Thursday to advance to the Big East tournament semifinals for the first time in 17 years.

The Friars led by 17 points with 6:24 to play but had their lead cut to one point with 1:15 to go. Still, they will play eighth-seeded Seton Hall in the semifinals on Friday night. The Pirates beat top-seeded and third-ranked Villanova 64-63 on a buzzer-beating jumper by Sterling Gibbs.

It will be the Friars’ first semifinal appearance since 1997. They lost their last five games in the Big East tournament.

“I’m excited to advance because that’s what tournament play is all about,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “There’s a lot of game balls to go around, and I couldn’t be more proud of the group. We’re excited to play Seton Hall tomorrow. … So get some rest, throw the ball up tomorrow, and play again.”

Providence (21-11) may not yet have secured an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, but the loss almost surely ended the chance of the Red Storm (20-12) to make the field of 68.

D'Angelo Harrison led St. John’s, which had won eight of 10, with 21 points and he grabbed 10 rebounds.

Cooley thinks the Red Storm should be in the field.

“They’re a tournament team, deservedly so, because they come out of the Big East and the conference is a monster,” he said.

The Friars are still around because of Fortune, who stepped up big time when Cotton, the league’s second-leading scorer with a 21.7 average and who entered on a streak of seven straight games of 20 or more points, was 1 of 10 from the field and had 12 points.

“If you had told me Bryce would be 1-for-10 shooting and 0 for 4 from the 3-point line and we’d be sitting here. I’d be lying to you,” Cooley said at the postgame news conference. “He’s been as consistent a player as I coached for a full season.”

Providence took a 63-46 lead with 6:24 left on a layup by LaDontae Henton. The Red Storm, who suddenly started playing aggressively both on defense and in their offensive rebounding, went on a 22-6 run in which Harrison scored seven of the last 11 points. His two free throws with 1:15 to go brought St. John’s within 69-68.

Providence then did what it does better than any team in the Big East - make free throws. The Friars, who came in shooting 78.3 percent from the line, went 10 for 10 over the final 31 seconds - with Cotton making six - to hold off the Red Storm.

Cotton scored 21 and 32 points in the two meetings between the teams this season which they split.

But it was Fortune, whose previous best was 18 points, who was the offensive star for the Friars. He was 8 for 13 from the field including going 4 of 7 from 3-point range. While Cotton struggled with foul trouble and poor shooting, Fortune made big shot after big shot to keep the Friars’ hopes of a second Big East title alive. Their only championship was in 1994.

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