This was the big-game feel and the big-game effort St. John's was looking for, mostly, out of their Big East home opener in Madison Square Garden.
But smart plays, points at the free throw line, and hustle plays won the day for the 8-ranked Villanova Wildcats, who leave MSG on top of the Big East after a 74-67 win. Villanova was led by Brooklyn native JayVaughn Pinkston's 15 points (6/14) and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats improve to 15-1, 4-0 in the Big East, while St. John's falls to 9-6, 0-3 in the Big East. St. John's plays at DePaul on Tuesday; Villanova welcomes DePaul to Philadelphia next Saturday.
A high energy effort in the first half led by the defense kept St. John's going back and forth with the Wildcats in the first half. And a Jamal Branch isolation mid range jumper on his only two points of the afternoon gave the Johnnies the lead. Villanova was held to 12/45 shooting in the first, but the Red Storm couldn't take advantage because of their own missed opportunities.
Fitting for a matchup between two of the most imposing interior defenses in the country, there were missed layups - 15 in the first half from the two teams. There were 33 missed layups in total, 17 for the Red Storm, who were held to .95 points per possession - 2/12 from beyond the arc (17% on threes), 21/54 inside the arc (39% on twos), 24 free throws attempted and eight turnovers.
Villanova had 10 of their 12 turnovers in the first half, tightening up their play in the second half.
Daniel Ochefu's defensive length was difference maker, but the whole squad played cohesive defense. The Red Storm had a total of five assists, despite looking to share the ball. And a pair of turnovers stymied the team's best Big East effort to date.
In a crucial stretch this afternoon, bad things came in pairs for the Red Storm. Late in the second half - between the 6:56 mark and a St. John's timeout at the 5:12 mark - Villanova's defensive effort and ability to shoot resulted in a pair of made threes, a pair of free throws, and a pair of St. John's turnovers. St. John's was up one point before that stretch, and fell to 63-56 by the time Steve Lavin called a time out to staunch the bleeding.
Villanova, as adept as ever in the last three years in drawing fouls, used hard cuts, shot fakes and crafty falls to draw fouls on the Red Storm all game long, who bit on shot fakes in their excitement to stop the Wildcats' scoring.
Foul trouble dogged D`Angelo Harrison (22 points on 4/13 shooting, 13/14 from the free throw line) and Orlando Sanchez (4 points, no rebounds) in the first half, limiting their minutes; JaKarr Sampson (10 points on 4/10 shooting, 8 rebounds) picked up his fourth foul with over 12:00 minutes left. Max Hooper also carried four fouls.
Orlando Sanchez fouled out on a Darrun Hilliard drive with 3:13 left in the second half.
St. John's tried to cut it close with a minute left to play, but Villanova forced a turnover as the Johnnies looked for a three; Josh Hart (14 points) ran the court and drew a foul, sealing the deal for the visiting Wildcats. Ryan Arcidiacono had 13, Hilliard and Daniel Ochefu both added 10.
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- Pregame, Villanova vs St. John's - Q and A with VU Hoops
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- May the odds be ever on your favor: college basketball odds of winning a championship