January 01, 2016

Providence's three stars have hit their stride just in time for Big East play, which certainly doesn't bode well for a young St. John's team that is struggling on the defensive end.

Seeking their first 2-0 conference start in seven years, the 12th-ranked Friars will try to lock up their best record after 15 games in a half century Saturday against the visiting Red Storm.

Kris Dunn proved he's recovered from an illness that sidelined him in the last two home games and high-scoring Ben Bentil seems to be over an ankle injury that limited him recently.

Dunn turned it on in the final 20 minutes after dealing with early foul trouble to key Providence's rally from an 11-point deficit in an 81-73 win at No. 9 Butler in Thursday's Big East opener. The junior guard finished with 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

''As long as we've got Kris Dunn here, we're going to make sure he earns his scholarship because he's not going to be here much longer,'' coach Ed Cooley joked about his preseason All-American.

Coming off a career-high 32-point performance in a 90-66 win at Massachusetts on Dec. 21, Bentil chipped in with 19 on Thursday. The sophomore forward is averaging 21.1 points on 52.4 percent shooting over his last 10 games and has totaled 29 rebounds in his past three.

Rodney Bullock had a career-high 25 points while hitting 6 of 9 from 3-point range and pulling down 10 rebounds at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The sophomore forward has averaged 15.8 points, 8.7 boards and 2 blocks while recording three double-doubles over his past six games.

''We just, collectively, all got it together,'' Dunn said of the team's comeback surge.

The Friars rank eighth among all Big East teams with a 33.5 3-point percentage, but they've hit 22 of 49 (44.9 percent) from long range while averaging 85.5 points in back-to-back road victories.

Providence, 7-0 at home, seeks its first 2-0 start in Big East play since winning its first three in 2008-09 and first 14-1 start overall since winning 15 of its first 16 in 1965-66.

The Red Storm have dropped four in a row, including home losses to Incarnate Word and NJIT. They've allowed an average of 79.3 points and a 45.5 percent 3-point shooting in their last three games.

Freshman Malik Ellison will try to build on his best performance, a 17-point, nine-rebound effort off the bench in an 80-70 home loss to Creighton in Thursday's league opener.

Classmate Federico Mussini, however, looks to regroup after a managing a season low-tying five on 1-of-8 shooting against the Bluejays. He's averaging a team-high 13.4 points.

"Getting consistent performance from different guys has been up and down. That is related to (the team's) inexperience," first-year coach Chris Mullin said. "All these experiences will be beneficial in the long term, but at the moment it's not enjoyable."

Providence dropped the first two in last season's series with St. John's (7-7) before pulling out a 74-57 win in the Big East tournament quarterfinals. Dunn averaged 19.0 points, 7.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds and made 53.7 percent from the field in the three matchups.

The Friars have won 12 straight at home versus unranked opponents since an 83-70 loss to St. John's last January. The Red Storm have lost 18 of their past 19 against Top 25 teams.

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