Villanova defeated the St. John’s 71-60 Wednesday night at the Finneran Pavilion. The Wildcats improve to 22-6 and 11-4 in the Big East with the victory. St. John’s falls to 14-14 and 3-12 in the Big East.
It was not the most fun game to watch, but head coach Jay Wright was pleased, “I’m happy with the win. I know it was ugly, but that’s what they do. St. John’s deserves a lot of credit, they’re top 5 in the country in turning teams over.”
The Wildcats did not get off to a slow start in this contest, starting off blistering hot and leading 14-4 just four minutes into the game. Villanova was 4-6 from three in that quick spurt, and sophomore wing Saddiq Bey led the way with eight points.
Bey led the Wildcats in scoring, finishing with 23 points and four rebounds, going 7-14 from the field and 4-8 from behind the arc.
The Red Storm fought back and prevented the game from becoming a blowout. Freshman Julian Champagine contributed four points, with others chipping in to keep the ‘Cats advantage to 18-10.
Two free throws from Red Storm sophomore Marcellus Earlington helped St. John’s cut their deficit to just 21-18 just a few minutes later.
Villanova did not let it get any closer, however. A Justin Moore three expanded the Wildcat lead to 24-18, and Bey continued his fiery first half with a tough layup.
St. John’s put on a press early in the 1st half. It didn’t cause too much trouble for the Wildcats right away, but late in the half Villanova had four turnovers in less than three minutes, helping the Red Storm go on a 10-0 run and make the Villanova lead just 35-32. Bey split a pair of free throws with eight seconds left but redshirt junior Rasheem Dunn hit a layup through contact to make the halftime lead for Villanova just 36-34.
Wright credits the Red Storm defense for the struggles in the turnover department, “We just got into a funk. They make you tentative… everybody got tentative when they broke that 13-point lead to two.”
Bey led the way with 14 points and Moore contributed nine, but nine turnovers for the team allowed the Red Storm to stay in it.
Moore finished with 21 points and six rebounds on 8-11 shooting and going 5-7 from deep and he credited his teammates for his performance, “My teammates found me in the right spots. Just being aggressive, listening to coach, just being aggressive and trying to make the right plays.”
Earlington led St. John’s in scoring the first half, accounting for eight points on 3-5 shooting, while the rest of the starters chipped in evenly and especially with the press to make things difficult for the Wildcats.
Champagine started off the second half for the Red Storm with a layup, tying the game at 36 apiece.
Villanova responded, going on a 10-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to get their lead back into double digits at 46-36.
Champagine ended the run with a layup and a foul, but the Wildcats had the Red Storm at arm’s length by then.
The two continued to exchange baskets from there, and sophomore Cole Swider hit his second three of the game to give Villanova a 51-43 lead with just over ten minutes left to play.
A 5-0 run for the Red Storm, led by some aggressive play for Dunn shrunk the Villanova lead to just 51-48. Another and-one for the guard from Brooklyn was enough to cut the Wildcat advantage to just two at 53-51. Junior guard Collin Gillespie, who at this point was 1-11 from the field, hit a pull up mid-range jumper to push the lead to 56-51 and give Villanova some breathing room.
At that point, the game turned into a parade to the foul line for freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who up to that point had been scoreless. Going 7-8 from the line in just a few minutes of game time Robinson-Earl turned a two-point game into a 62-53 lead. Seven consecutive points from Moore grew the lead to 69-56 and pulled the game out of reach for good.
Robinson-Earl finished with seven points and eight rebounds, and all seven were earned in that 7-8 stretch from the line.
As a team, the Wildcats shot 11-31 (35.5%) from three, and 22-51 (43.1%) overall. They were able to hold St. John’s to just 2-12 (16.7%) from three, and 23-66 (34.8%) overall.
Villanova returns to action for their home finale Saturday at 12 P.M. at the Wells Fargo Center against Providence.