Despite the efforts of Shamorie Ponds - a career-high 37 points - on offense and a slow Villanova start, the St. John’s Red Storm fell to the Villanova Wildcats 78-71 in Madison Square Garden, in the Johnnies’ first Big East game at MSG.
St. John’s stumbles 10-8 on the season, 0-6 in Big East play. The #1 ranked Villanova Wildcats improve to 16-1 on the season and 4-1 in Big East play.
The Johnnies were competent on defense early, and on offense kept things competitive, trading leads with Villanova. But the depth issue raised its concerns quickly when Justin Simon was called for an offensive foul when he drove into awaiting Phil Booth in the paint.
But the Red Storm handled losing one of their best players, even getting to a point where the Johnnies were able to get Simon on the floor for a stretch late in the first half (where he had two turnovers and a missed shot).
The Red Storm held the line, but one wonders if the Red Storm had their full slate of players for that 30 minutes, could they have taken advantage?
The Wildcats were clearly playing without a cohesive regard on how to attack the Johnnies; Villanova took 58% of their shots from beyond the arc, seemed indifferent to the idea that the Red Storm would pressure them and turned the ball over on 21% of their possessions, uncharacteristic for such a clinical team.
For most of the first half, the Wildcats were not hitting.
But Jay Wright’s Wildcats got smart late - or at least started hitting shots.
With about three and a half minutes left, Shamorie Ponds tried to strip Donte Divincenzo, but was called for a foul. The first foul shot gave Villanova the tie and the next gave the Wildcats the lead. DeVincenzo struck again, coming off a screen and receiving a pass with Ponds giving him space, going under the screen. DeVincenzo hit a three, a part of the 16-5 run by Villanova that gave them the 7 point lead, after a St. John’s timeout.
The second half pushed the Villanova lead to 10 points on a Jalen Brunson jump shot with 17 minutes left, but the lead was never more than 11 in the rest of the half, despite Donte DiVencenzo’s career high 25 points on 7/11 shooting (6/9 on three-pointers).
The Johnnies made it interesting late, with Shamorie Ponds taking nearly every shot late in the second half. He brought the Red Storm to within four points twice in the last two minutes, driving deep against the Wildcats, but the Wildcats were a perfect 7/7 from the free throw line in the last two minutes.
For St. John’s, Bashir Ahmed and Justin Simon added seven points each. Ponds also had seven defensive rebounds. Tariq Owens had seven total rebounds.
St. John’s shot 1/12 from outside the arc in the game.
For Villanova, four players were in double figures - DiVincemzo, leading with his 25 from the bench; Mikal Bridges (15); Jalen Brunson (12); and Omari Spellman (10).
St. John’s plays Xavier next at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Wednesday night against 6th ranked Musketeers.