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Villanova finishes regular season strong

The Wildcats, who rallied to beat St. John’s, are focusing on Thursday’s quarterfinal in Big East Tournament.

Villanova's Dylan Ennis high-fives teammate Phil Booth after Ennis made a three-point basket. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Villanova's Dylan Ennis high-fives teammate Phil Booth after Ennis made a three-point basket. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

HOW GOOD was Villanova on Saturday at the overflowing Wells Fargo Center against St. John's? In the final game of the best regular season in school history, the Wildcats played what had to be the best stretch of basketball by any team anywhere in 2014-15.

'Nova actually trailed St. John's 35-25 after a ridiculous dunk by Vaux High's Rysheed Jordan. Over the next 27 1/2 minutes, the Wildcats outscored the Red Storm, 80-33, and committed zero turnovers. They won, 105-68.

St. John's (21-10, 10-8 Big East) had been the hottest team in the league this side of Villanova. The Wildcats (29-2, 16-2) scorched the Red Storm, dominating the lane, hitting 11 threes and finishing off the game like they can't wait for the postseason to begin.

It will start for them Thursday at noon at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals against the winner of Wednesday's game between Marquette and Seton Hall. They would appear ready.

Without Red Storm shot blocker Chris Obekba (320 career blocks in three seasons) available, the 'Cats got the ball to the rim with ease. Big men Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston combined for 39 points and 15 rebounds. They shot 15-for-18 from the field and 9-for-10 from the foul line.

Dylan Ennis (17), Darrun Hilliard (14) and Josh Hart (13) gave the 'Cats five in double figures. Phil Booth had eight assists off the bench.

'Nova shot 37-for-66, 26-for-34 inside the arc. They scored an insane 1.54 points per possession.

If Villanova wins the tournament, it is a lock for a No. 1 seed. It is just a question of which region - East (Syracuse), South (Houston) or West (Los Angeles). Unbeaten Kentucky has the Midwest (Cleveland) locked up for the second weekend. Virginia, Duke and Villanova would all be on the 1-line at the moment. Site preference is determined by how the Selection Committee ranks the teams next Sunday. The higher you are ranked, the closer to home you play. Regardless of what else happens, Villanova will open the NCAA in Pittsburgh on March 19.

La Salle beats Dayton

La Salle led almost all the way against Dayton at Gola Arena, was great on the offensive glass and parlayed that into a 55-53 win. The Explorers (16-15, 8-10 Atlantic 10) will be the No. 9 seed in the A-10 Tournament at the Barclays Center and will play No. 8 Massachusetts on Thursday at noon. The winner will get regular-season champion Davidson in Friday's quarterfinals.

Playing their final home games, seniors Jerrell Wright (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Steve Zack (six points, 14 rebounds) owned the inside. La Salle had 14 offensive rebounds, the key stat in a game where baskets were hard to come by.

Jordan Price had 21 points and eight rebounds for the Explorers, who defended Dayton (23-7, 13-5) so well that the Flyers had just six assists and 14 turnovers.

St. Joe's loses at Rhode Island

Saint Joseph's played a pretty solid first half at Rhode Island, but could not finish and lost, 78-68. The Hawks (13-17, 7-11 A-10) are seeded 10th in the tournament and will play No. 7 St. Bonaventure Thursday at 6:30. The winner will get No. 2 seed Dayton on Friday.

SJU managed to shoot 56.3 percent and still lose decisively. That can happen when you only take 48 shots because you have 16 turnovers. It did not help that the Hawks shot 8-for-17 from the foul line. DeAndre' Bembry, finishing off a sensational sophomore season, had 21 points, six rebounds and six assists.

URI (21-8, 13-5) was just 3-for-18 from the arc, but committing just eight turnovers gave it many more chances and 13 more shots than the Hawks, enough chances and shots to win the game.

Penn wins again

It was a bit ironic that on the weekend when everybody found out that Penn was going to fire coach Jerome Allen, the Quakers, starting four freshmen, demonstrated their potential by beating Columbia Friday and Cornell Saturday at the Palestra.

The Quakers (9-18, 4-9 Ivy) won with defense against the Lions, offense against the Big Red. Penn shot 27-for-50 (54 percent) with just nine turnovers in its 79-72 win over Cornell (13-17, 5-9).

Freshmen Sam Jones, Antonio Woods and Darnell Foreman combined to scored 38 points and shoot 7-for-14 from the arc. Woods had 15 points and 11 assists. Penn finishes its season tomorrow night at the Palestra against Princeton.