Fortune leads Providence to 1st Big East semis since 1997 with 79-74 win over St. John's

Josh Fortune scored a career-high 24 points and Providence advanced to the Big East tournament semifinals for the first time in 17 years by hanging on for a 79-74 victory over St. John's on Thursday.

The Friars, who led by 17 points with 6:24 to play had their lead cut to one point with 1:15 to go, but will play eighth-seeded Seton Hall in the semifinals on Friday night. The Pirates beat top-seeded and third-ranked Villanova 64-63 on a buzzer-beating jumper by Sterling Gibbs.

It will be the Friars' first semifinal appearance since 1997. They lost their last five games in the Big East tournament.

Providence (21-11) may not yet have secured an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, but the loss almost surely ended the chance of the Red Storm (20-12) to make the field of 68.

D'Angelo Harrison led St. John's, which had won eight of 10, with 21 points and he grabbed 10 rebounds.

The Friars are still around because of Fortune, who stepped up big time when his backcourtmate, Bryce Cotton, the league's second-leading scorer with a 21.7 average had one of his worst games of the season.

Cotton, who entrered on a streak of seven straight games of 20 or more points, was 1 of 10 from the field and had 12 points.

Providence took a 63-46 lead with 6:24 left on a layup by LaDontae Henton. The Red Storm, who suddenly started playing aggressively both on defense and in their offensive rebounding, went on a 22-6 run in which Harrison scored seven of the last 11 points. His two free throws with 1:15 to go brought St. John's within 69-68.

Providence then did what it does better than any team in the Big East — make free throws. The Friars, who came in shooting 78.3 percent from the line, went 10 for 10 over the final 31 seconds — with Cotton making six — to hold off the Red Storm.

Cotton scored 21 and 32 points in the two meetings between the teams this season which they split.

But it was Fortune, whose previous best was 18 points, who was the offensive star for the Friars. He was 8 for 13 from the field including going 4 of 7 from 3-point range. While Cotton struggled with foul trouble and poor shooting, Fortune made big shot after big shot to keep the Friars' hopes of a second Big East title alive. Their only championship was in 1994.

Henton had 16 points for Providence while Kadeem Batts had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Rysheed Jordan had 17 points - 14 in the first half — for the Red Storm and JaKarr Sampson had 15 points and nine rebounds. Orlando Sanchez had eight points and 12 rebounds.

St. John's was looking to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2000.