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Providence survives Big East bubble battle with St. John's

Providence's LaDontae Henton, right, and Carson Desrosiers celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against St. John's in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in New York. Providence defeated St. John's 79-74
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Providence's LaDontae Henton, right, and Carson Desrosiers celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against St. John's in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in New York. Providence defeated St. John's 79-74.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK — Leaning on Josh Fortune’s 24 points, a tremendous effort on the offensive boards and some clutch free throw shooting late, Providence survived a nearly epic collapse against fellow bubble team St. John’s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

The Friars appeared to be running away with the game when a LaDontae Henton layup put them up 17 with 6:24 to go, but on a day that had already seen top-seeded Villanova eliminated, the drama in the Garden was just getting started. Orlando Sanchez and JaKarr Sampson spearheaded a Red Storm run – mixing a frantic press on defense with a dedication to attacking the paint on offense - that made it a 69-68 game with a little over a minute remaining.

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St. John’s had a chance to take the lead, but Friar center Carson Desrosiers blocked Sampson at the rim on a play that could have garnered a whistle. The Friars hit all ten of their free throw attempts in the final minute, sealing a 79-74 win that could lock up their NCAA Tournament bid. St. John’s, now 20-12 on the season with only a single marquee win against Creighton, is all but eliminated from big dance contention.

The Friars blew the game open over the course of the second half, pounding the boards after St. John’s center Chris Obekpa picked up his third foul with 18:38 left in the game. At that point a 38-35 Providence lead blossomed to 63-46 as Desrosiers and forward Tyler Harris collected a dozen of the Friars’ 16 offensive rebounds. Fortune provided the outside fire power (4-for-7 from three) and Kadeem Batts put together a double-double with 13 points and 12 boards.

The Providence won despite a bad game from All-Big East first teamer Bryce Cotton, who was plagued by shooting woes and foul trouble the whole game. Cotton went 0-for-5 from the field in the first half and surprisingly missed three of his four free throws – he’s 85% on the season – but bounced back to help seal the game, connecting on all nine of his second half charity stripe attempts.

JuHarrison had a fantastic game for the Red Storm, with 21 points, ten boards and four assists. Steve Lavin’s team led by as many as seven in the first half, but a scoring drought coupled with defensive rebounding difficulties likely doomed them to an NIT trip.

Providence’s tournament resume is now sturdy, but depending on what happens in other tournaments their position isn’t exactly safe. They’ll face Seton Hall in the first semifinal Friday night and it would behoove them to not suffer a loss to the 17-16 Pirates. The two teams split their two games in the regular season, including a double overtime Seton Hall win in Rhode Island.

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