- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - St. John’s is turning into the Big East team that nobody wants to face during the second half of conference play.

After dropping its first five league games, St. John’s has now won five of six, the latest victory coming Tuesday in an 86-76 victory over Providence.

“This is what we were supposed to do right from the get go,” said JaKarr Sampson, who finished with 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting.

D’Angelo Harrison led St. John’s (14-9, 4-6 in the Big East) with 22 points, on just 4-of-15 shooting. The guard, however, did go 11 of 12 from the free throw line. Rysheed Jordan added 18 points with 13 coming in the first half, a 20-minute interval that saw the Red Storm piece together arguably its most dominant stretch against Big East competition.

Providence’s Bryce Cotton led all scorers with 32 points, on 11-of-25 shooting. In addition, he hit six 3-pointers and had six assists. Kadeem Batts added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Friars (16-7, 6-4) while Josh Fortune swished four 3-pointers on his way to posting 12 points.

St. John’s jumped out to a double-digit lead with less than seven minutes gone by in the first half. The Red Storm hit five of their first eight shots before later scoring 10 straight points to take a 33-14 lead.

The 19-point lead at the 8:56 mark was the biggest lead of the opening half for St. John’s, which went into halftime up 53-37. The Red Storm shot 61.1 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes while PC made 36.8.

“Why we came out like this is baffling to me,” said PC coach Ed Cooley. “We made a lot of mistakes. I didn’t think we were as detailed as I thought we normally were. We tried to play from a large, large deficit, but I’m disappointed with this loss, for sure.”

St. John’s sprinted out to a 67-44 lead with 14:50 remaining. Then the game turned as PC dug in defensively and Cotton jumpstarted a 14-0 run with a rare four-point play. He was fouled while shooting a 3 in front of his own bench that helped bring the Friars to within striking distance.

Cotton’s sixth trey of the night brought PC to within 69-63 with just under 8 minutes remaining. With momentum clearly on the home team’s side, the onus fell on St. John’s to come up with a few timely plays of its own.

After two free throws by Harrison and a jumper by Sampson, St. John’s went up by double digits. PC’s last gasp featured a LaDontae Henton 3-pointer with 47.1 seconds remaining that cut it to 80-75, but St. John’s went on to make six free throws to seal up the victory.

“We’re gaining confidence with each practice and each game,” said St. John’s coach Steve Lavin. “It’s tough to start off your conference in a hole, and this stretch speaks volumes of our player’s resolve and gumption. Tonight was just another step in that direction.”

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