Bryce Cotton scored 24 points, hitting five 3-pointers, to propel Providence to a 62-59 win over St. John's on Saturday night.
Cotton made his final trey as he was fouled with 3:46 remaining, putting the Friars (16-12, 8-8 Big East) squarely in the lead.
"God gave us that win," said Providence coach Ed Cooley. "We were supposed to win today."
St. John's (16-12, 8-8) stayed within a few points of Providence through the last minutes of the game. Sir'Dominic Pointer's missed layup with 8 seconds remaining — belying his impressive double-double with 13-points and 10-rebounds — ended the Red Storm's chances at sending the game to overtime.
"We did a lot of things wrong, but when it was time to do something right, we did," Cooley said, referring to Cotton and Kris Dunn's ability to sink two out of four free throws in the final 36 seconds. "The little things got us over the hump."
Both coaches pointed to Providence's dominance beneath the rim, with the Friars outrebounding St. John's 47-38.
"To win on someone else's home court against a hot team, you can't be outrebounded by 9," St. John's coach Steven Lavin said.
St. John's played without leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison, who was suspended by coach Steve Lavin one day before the game. Lavin said Harrison, who averaged 17.8 points per game to rank third in the Big East, would not return this season.
Lavin attributed his team's loss more to Providence's strength than his own team's faults.
"I couldn't be more proud of" them, he said. They "played with cohesiveness. They battled. We just lost."
Lavin also said Phil Greene IV's fight with a knee injury and Jamal Branch's cramp that limited his ability to contribute hurt the Red Storm.
The Red Storm's difficulty from behind the 3-point line, missing all five attempts in the first half and finishing only 1 of 6 in the second, gave the Friars a big leg up as they nailed 7 of 22 attempts throughout the game.
Providence was able "to go from 2-7 to 8-8 and really is the hottest team in the league other than Georgetown," Lavin said. "In my book (Ed Cooley) is the Big East coach of the year runaway."
Cotton explained his improvement from the beginning of the season by noting "the sense of urgency" that came after the Friars' initial losses.
"We had our backs to the ropes," he said.
Kadeem Batts scored 15 points, but his defensive play, with nine boards and a vital rebound with 3 minutes remaining that kept the Friars in the lead, was his most important contribution.
JaKarr Sampson led the Red Storm with 22 points, earning Cooley's praise as his pick for "rookie of the year."
Lavin said he was not going to dwell on Harrison's absence, but rather focus on coaching the team in front of him. "We've been awful from the 3-point line, so that's not new," he said.
The first half, which ended with St. John's leading 27-26, was a close back-and-forth match with Sampson's 11 points leading the Red Storm and Batts' seven points driving the Friars.