Marshon Brooks was the picture of a frustrated Friar as he stood in the hallway of The Dunk Saturday night. His stat line in a narrow loss to St. John’s – 8-of-14 shooting for 20 points – did little to ease his pain.
Most players would gladly take the numbers like the ones Brooks compiled, bolt quickly out of the gym and pray that nothing gets amended before the final sheet is xeroxed. Not Brooks. The senior knows that if Providence has any shot of being anything more than a mere footnote in Big East play, then he has to deliver high octane performances every time out.
This isn’t exactly “dog bites man” material, since Brooks was widely seen as the top alpha dog heading into the season. Preseason musings declared that as Brooks goes, so go the Friars. PC fans received a stern reminder of said scenario after the Red Storm held on for a 67-65 win over the Friars, St. John’s first victory in Providence since Feb. 8, 2000. It was a game that saw Brooks be merely good, which turns out wasn’t good enough in the eyes of the game’s true arbitrator: the scoreboard.
Forget for a second about the charge call that went against Brooks and Keno Davis’ Friars with 13.9 seconds remaining. Yes, it was a big play because it snuffed out PC’s bid to whittle or completely erase what was a 65-62 deficit at the time. The bigger picture is that Providence lost the game because St. John’s made Brooks and his 20 points the equivalent of a whisper.
The Red Storm didn’t allow Brooks to inflict his scoring will like the slinky swingman has done so often through the Friars’ 11-4 start. He spent New Year’s Night submerged in quick sand, as St. John’s made Brooks fight for every inch of his latest 20-point effort.
And because the Johnnies held Brooks nearly four points below his scoring average, the Friars are now staring down the barrel of a 13-game conference losing streak heading into Tuesday’s visit from preseason favorite and soon-to-be top-five Pittsburgh.
That brings us back to our earlier point: the Friars need Brooks to play fearless and free, for he is the only proven scoring option on a team “with not a whole lot of room for error this year with us being as young as we are,” Davis noted after a lengthy locker room session with the players, one that placed his customary postgame radio spot in jeopardy.
St. John’s answer for the Big East’s second-leading scorer was to push him well beyond the 3-point stripe and clog up the driving lanes. Such a thwarted effort by the Red Storm caused Brooks to sport many a pained look throughout the 34 minutes he logged.
“I was really frustrated. I couldn’t get into the paint like I wanted to. They (St. John’s) were in a matchup zone, so they had a man on me the whole time,” said Brooks when asked if he was cognizant of how St. John’s was guarding him. “I felt like I could get by my man, but then their guards would switch off.”
The final count shows that Brooks mustered only two hoops in which he started at the top of the key and finished the job at the rim. That sum equals the number of treys he connected on. On both counts it’s a number that teams defending the Friars will gladly take. On the flip side, it reveals what kind of trouble the Friars can get themselves into, when Brooks has a hard time getting going.
Some may argue that when Brooks was ripping off eight straight games of 25 or more points, he needed to hoist up a bunch of shots in order to reach those lofty scoring heights. The “economical” version was on the floor two nights ago, as St. John’s bottled up Brooks to the point that forcing up shots wasn’t even an option. That became abundantly clear as the Friars as a collective unit limped to the final horn, managing just six points in the last four minutes.
The only shot that could be considered a force job on Brooks’ part came on a tough, hands-in-his-face turnaround with a minute remaining, the game knotted at 62-all. Brooks’ shot wound up scraping the basket’s side support, which would hurt even more after Paris Horne splashed in a huge 3-ball with 28.3 ticks left to put St. John’s up for good.
The fact Brooks amassed the points he did is a credit to him. “He didn’t force anything or shoot us out of the game,” Davis said about his leading Friar.
If there’s an encouraging sign from Saturday, it’s that the 10-0 second-half blitzing the Friars hit the Red Storm over the head with came with Brooks playing a tiny role. Instead of being his normal, go-to guy self, he watched youngsters Duke Mondy and Gerard Coleman assume the controls. Mondy nailed a corner three (made possible by a setup from Brooks) to pull PC to within 58-56, which Coleman followed with a putback and a free throw that put the Friars up 59-58 with 3:59 remaining.
However, with the game on the line, Brooks couldn’t summon that extra gear to deliver the Friars their first Big East win in almost a calendar year. All the credit goes to the eradicators from St. John’s, for Saturday reminded us that as Brooks goes, so go the Friars. Old news or not, that’s simply the reality staring Providence in the face.