The St. John’s defense dictated much of Villanova’s night in the Wildcats’ final game of the season at Finneran Pavilion. The 12th-ranked Wildcats turned the ball over a lot in the first against the Red Storm press, and didn’t shoot well against the visitors’ half-court defense in the second.
But after coughing up all of a 13-point first-half lead Wednesday night and much of a 10-point advantage in the second half, the Cats found their stride with a 16-5 run down the stretch and went on to a 71-60 victory, their fifth straight win, and moved into a tie for second place in the Big East.
Villanova (22-6, 11-4) led 35-22 with just over 3 minutes left in the first half, only to see the Red Storm (14-14, 3-12) mount a 14-1 run and tie the game at 36 with the initial basket of the second half. The Cats then ran off 10 straight points and looked to establish more of a cushion.
But St. John’s kept plugging away. The Red Storm held Villanova to just two points over a 3:43 span and drew to within 53-51 on Rasheem Dunn’s conventional three-point play with just over 8 minutes remaining.
The Cats responded by scoring on their next six possessions, with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl going 7-of-8 on free throws, and seven straight points by Justin Moore extended the ‘Nova lead to 69-56 with 1:57 to play to clinch the win.
Saddiq Bey led the Wildcats with 23 points and Moore added 21. The two players combined to knock down nine of Villanova’s 11 three-point baskets. Jermaine Samuels had 10 rebounds and Robinson-Earl eight as ‘Nova won the battle of the boards, 46-31.
Dunn and Marcellus Earlington scored 12 points each to lead St. John’s, which shot just 34.8% to 43.1% for the Cats.
The Red Storm’s defense was a challenge for Villanova, which leads the Big East in fewest turnovers at 10.7 per game. The visitors had six steals and forced nine turnovers, scoring 10 points off the miscues in the first half. The Wildcats reduced that number to four in the second half but shot only 35.7% in the final 20 minutes.
Villanova coach Jay Wright: “We get in these situations and we’re not good enough yet. We had a 13-point lead in the first half where we put somebody away. We don’t do that yet, and it has hurt us in some games. But most times, if somebody makes a run at us, it happened a couple of times in the Xavier game and it happened a couple of times tonight, and we responded. We keep a positive attitude and keep playing. I’m proud of our guys for that.”
St. John’s coach Mike Anderson: “I’ll take that effort each and every night. We’re going to win ballgames. We have three games left and our intention is to get better.”
-Wildcats point guard Collin Gillespie, who extended his three-point drought to 0-of-13 over the last two games and scored eight points Wednesday night, limped to the bench favoring his right leg with 12:12 to play. He returned a little more than two minutes later but left the game for good with 4:43 remaining. Wright said he did not know if the injury was serious and added, “As we increased the lead, I didn’t want to put him back in. He said he was OK but he was obviously hobbling. “