St. John’s may not have won many of its big games this season but it has played some of its best basketball when it was down in those games. The Red Storm scored well in the second half against No. 3 Wisconsin in pairing a huge deficit to four points. Strong play in the second half against No. 2 Syracuse got it a lead before things unraveled. And on Tuesday it turned a seven-point deficit into a four point lead in the second half before falling at DePaul.

The Johnnies haven’t sustained the strong play to finish out the wins, but urgent situations seem to take their play to a higher level.

So it would be no surprise if St. John’s (9-7, 0-4 Big East) puts together a first-rate game against Providence (11-5, 1-2) when they meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at Carnesecca Arena. The Storm’s situation is getting pretty urgent.

Coach Steve Lavin has been the picture of calm optimism even as his most-talented St. John’s team has struggled. He knows more than a little bit about teams coming together late in the season. His first Storm team got hot after the New Year of 2011 and it made a run to the NCAA Tournament. His 1999-2000 UCLA Bruins were 4-8 in the Pac-10 (now Pac-12), won its last six conference games and reached the NCAA Sweet 16.

“I’ve had teams that were 4-8 in conference play and were playing on the final weekend to get to the Final Four a month later. That was a team that came together in mid-February,” he said earlier this week. “The goal is to be great start-to-finish... but I knew with this team it was going to take some time... we knew it was going to be a challenge to jell.”

Late leads against Syracuse, No. 6 Villanova and DePaul evaporated into losses with poor decision-making and execution in the late going. Play in crunch-time, extending leads and salting away wins has proved difficult.

“Finishing also comes with maturity and experience. Look at the teams we lost to – with the exception of Penn state – they’re all grizzled veteran teams that are in the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. We haven’t been there. We don’t have a player on a roster who has been to the NCAA Tournament.”

If the Johnnies can find a way to push through once against a major conference foe – see what it’s like to walk that path to victory – it should get easier.