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St. John's tops Providence in Big East opener

By Jim O'Connell
AP Basketball Writer / December 27, 2011
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NEW YORK—The list of great freshmen in the Big East is long and star-studded. Moe Harkless jumped to the top Tuesday night.

The 6-foot-8 forward scored 32 points -- the most ever by a freshmen in his Big East debut -- and St. John's had its best offensive game of the season in a 91-67 victory over Providence.

Harkless look stunned when he was told he passed Notre Dame's Troy Murphy and Georgetown's Alllen Iverson, who both had 30 points in their freshman debut.

"I don't even know what to say," Harkless said. "It's an honor to be mentioned with those guys. Being able to break the record is a great feeling."

Fellow freshman D'Angelo Harrison, who had a season-high 25 points, didn't know about the record until the postgame news conference.

"Damn. That's amazing to me. Hey, I set a record for myself," the 6-3 guard said with a laugh. "Moe did a great job. He was efficient all the way through. He deserves it."

The win snapped the Friars' seven-game winning streak and left Providence coach Ed Cooley upset to say the least.

"Our kids were pathetic today in every way," he said. "Every wart re-emerged. We were very selfish. We just weren't tough and when you're not tough and show that passion to compete, that's very sad to see. We were coming along but played a team that wanted it more."

Phil Greene, another freshman, had 12 points for the Red Storm (7-5, 1-0), who won their third straight after a three-game losing streak and had a season-high for points. The previous best was 82 points in a 24-point win over UMBC.

The Red Storm came into the game averaging 66.7 points -- 15th in the 16-team Big East -- but they had 47 and a 16-point lead at halftime.

"Our defense made us play better offense," Harrison said. "It all started on the defensive end. The scoring was on the fast break and that makes it easy."

Providence committed 20 turnovers, well over its season average of 13.2, and the Red Storm turned them into 34 points.

"We were able to score off their scores," St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap said. "We had confidence we could answer with something at the rim and we took more 3s. We want them to shoot it with confidence. For good, for bad, we want them to take those shots. The 3-ball helped us."

Harkless, who was 14 of 17 from the field, had 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double in a five-game span.

"He is terrific, a great player, a very, very good player," Cooley said of Harkless. "He's definitely a face of the Big East and he will go down as one of St. John's best players."

Harrison, who was 8 of 12 from the field and had seven assists, said Harkless "can do everything I can do -- shoot, pass, he's athletic, plays defense, blocks shots. He has everything. Moe's a pro for sure."

Gerard Coleman had 20 points for the Friars (11-3, 0-1), who had won three straight road games and had been allowing only 62.9 points per game.

Harrison had 18 points in the first half -- three off his season best for a game -- as the Red Storm suddenly became an outside shooting team. They were 5 of 13 (38.5 percent) from 3-point range in the first half, well above the 26.1 percent mark they had entering the game -- a figure that put them last in the conference.

A 3-pointer by Malik Stith with 4:36 left in the half gave St. John's its biggest lead, 37-18. The Friars got within 40-29 but Harrison converted a three-point play to start a 7-2 run to close the half.

St. John's, which led by as many as 26 points, finished 35 of 62 from the field (56.5 percent), including 7 of 19 from 3-point range (36.8 percent). The Red Storm improved to 6-1 at Carnesecca Arena this season and snapped a streak of seven straight games where they failed to reach 70 points.

"Carnesecca can be a little hornets' nest when you pack it," Dunlap said, referring to the sellout crowd of 5,602. "It has its own advantages and it really helped us energy-wise, especially in the second half."

Providence was never able to make a run, never getting closer than 12 points in the second half.

Cooley was asked about his team's defense.

"Defense? That was awful," he said. "I promise you we will correct that attitude. That was the worst defensive game I ever coached and that will be emphatically addressed at 6 a.m. tomorrow."

This was the sixth straight game missed by St. John's coach Steve Lavin as he continues to recuperate from prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. He has coached four games this season, winning two. There is no timetable for his return as he continues on a modified coaching schedule. He attends practice, recruits and meets with alumni but he doesn't have the stamina to coach games.

This was the 99th meeting between the schools and St. John's leads the series 57-42, although Providence has won 12 of the last 16.

There were only two officials -- Tim Higgins and Ed Corbett -- for the opening 1:11 until Jeff Clark, who was stuck in traffic on a rainy night in the New York City area, arrived.

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