St. John's traveled to Philadelphia looking to remain competitive and put pressure on number one ranked Villanova, but instead Chris Mullin's team was out-played in the second half on their way to an 73 to 63 loss to an experienced and poised Wildcats squad.
The Johnnies, who have now lost 16-games in a row, were led by Amar Alibegovic (a career high 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting and four threes) and Ron Mvouika (10 points). Kassoum Yakwe also had a solid game as he put up eight points and five rebounds while Durand Johnson, 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting, and Christian Jones, zero points, struggled.
Malik Ellison used his size and attacking mentality to finish with 11 points and Federico Mussini and Yankuba Sima added just two combined points.
In the opening half, the Red Storm struggled to contain Daniel Ochefu (25 total points and nine rebounds) in the paint, but they battled on the boards and played really strong defensively, holding the home team to 38 percent from all areas of the floor and 0-of-11 from three. The Johnnies knocked down 37 percent of their shots and turned the ball over only seven times despite having issues with the Wildcats' press early in the first frame.
Yakwe was sensational in the first half as he was physical on the glass, protected the rim, showed his quick hands by adding two steals and also made strong moves to the basket on offense. His energy combined with Alibegovic's effective play had the Johnnies up 9-8 at the under 12 minute media timeout and in the mix throughout the half.
It looked like the Wildcats were going to break open their lead to double digits with four minutes left in the first frame, but Mvouika and Johnson hit back-to-back treys and Ellison had a impressive And-1 finish with two seconds left. The Johnnies trailed by just one at the break, 28-27, which was the exact same halftime score as when the team's met earlier in the season at Madison Square Garden.
Similar to the first meeting, the Red Storm couldn't match the Wildcats experience and poise in the final 20 minutes. Villanova started to find their touch from beyond the arc, Ochefu continued to take command inside and the home team got into the bonus with more than nine minutes remaining in the game. While the Johnnies played inspired basketball, a 10-2 Villanova run over the course of three and a half minutes in the middle of the second half was the difference.
The Johnnies shot 44 percent from the field, 40 percent from downtown and 56 percent from the free throw line. Jay Wright's squad shot 18 more free throws than the Red Storm, shot 44 percent from all areas of the floor and 21 percent from downtown. They also out-rebounded St. John's by nine.
Josh Hart (seven points), Kris Jenkins (four points) and Jalen Brunson (eight points and seven turnovers) had off nights while Ryan Arcidiacono had a big second half and scored a total of 13 points.
Next up for the Red Storm (7-19, 0-13) is their best chance to earn their first Big East victory and snap their losing streak as they will battle against DePaul at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night.