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For St. John's, it's getting late early

NEW YORK -- An underachieving St. John’s team hit a new low Thursday night in Queens.

The Red Storm lost at Carnesecca Arena for the first time this season, dropping their fifth straight to open Big East play, 84-83 to the Providence Friars in double overtime.

The spring semester at St. John’s doesn’t begin until next week, which is a good thing. The students would have filed out of here heartbroken or angry, or both.

The Red Storm did rally from a 13-point first-half deficit, but that should be little consolation. St. John’s had the last shot in regulation, the first overtime and the second overtime, and failed to convert each time.

Nevertheless, coach Steve Lavin put a positive spin on things after the game.

"Naturally, we’re disappointed with the outcome," Lavin said. "But I felt the team really competed."

"I thought the kids played in a very cohesive fashion, and they fought their fannies off for 50 minutes," he added. "Just really proud of this group of young men."

After St. John’s scored the first two points of the game, Providence rattled off 14 straight, leading to a Lavin timeout. Forward Sir'Dominic Pointer, the lone St. John’s player made available to the media after the game, said he and his teammates felt the pressure of their 0-4 start in the conference.

"We were too anxious," Pointer said. "Everybody was uptight. We were missing open shots, layups at the beginning of the game."

Lavin agreed with Pointer’s assessment. "It’s really a good sign," the coach said. "It’s a healthy sign, because it means it’s a group that cares."

St. John’s whittled the Providence lead to seven at halftime, 36-29, and took its first lead since the opening minute, 65-63, with 3:07 remaining. But with the game tied at 67 in the final seconds of regulation, Orlando Sanchez missed an open jumper from the top of the key.

The Red Storm again had the final possession in the first overtime. With the scored tied at 77, D'Angelo Harrison penetrated, lost the ball, recovered it, then missed an awkward look from the corner.

St. John’s took a four-point lead in the second overtime, 83-79, on a Harrison layup with 1:35 remaining, but they blew the game from there. After Providence’s Tyler Harris drained a pair of free throws to cut it to 83-82 with 25.6 seconds left, St. John’s inbounded the ball to reserve Max Hooper, who allowed himself to get tied up, with the possession arrow favoring Providence.

Providence’s Bryce Cotton made a runner in the lane and was fouled with 9.8 seconds left, putting the Friars back in front, 84-83. Cotton missed the ensuing free throw and St. John’s got the rebound, but Phil Greene IV's layup attempt in traffic at the final second was off the mark.

"It was perfect," Lavin said of Greene’s final shot. "That was the one we wanted. … That alone was growth, even though we didn’t get the payoff of a win."

Yes, St. John’s competed in this game. Yes, the team fought. But there was certainly nothing perfect about this performance and little, if any, growth.

The Red Storm fell behind early, as they’ve done seemingly all season long. They didn’t convert late, despite having multiple chances to win the game. And they made critical mistakes, none bigger than the Hooper jump ball.

Why wasn’t Hooper tougher with the ball and more aware of the situation? Furthermore, why was he even in the game?

"Jakarr [Sampson] got a leg cramp, so, unfortunately, bad timing he couldn’t go. That’s why we initially subbed [in Hooper]," Lavin said. “And then on the last possession, we knew they were gonna foul, so we were just putting our best shooter in the game."

Yes, Hooper can shoot, but the Harvard transfer is awfully inexperienced. And had only taken four free throws on the season, making just two.

Some people say St. John’s talent was overrated at the start of the season. Some say the coach isn’t doing a good job.

It looked like a little bit of both Thursday night.

"Once we get a good win and get back on the winning track, I think we’re gonna shoot right off," Pointer said. "Our season is nowhere near over. It’s just beginning."

If only that were true.