Finally, the Red Storm have their first Big East win. Over #1 Villanova, by the score of 79-75.
Playing a tight six player rotation, St. John’s did what was unthinkable for those not in Chris Mullin’s locker room — defeat the number one team in the country. The program has not defeated a number one team since 1985, when Chris Mullin was playing.
St. John’s is 12-13 on the season, 1-11 in Big East play.
How on earth did this team, breaking an 11 game losing streak in the Big East, beat the Villanova machine, the recent National Champions, the #1 team in the nation, the reliable, inexorable force of will that has scourged the Big East for years?
Heading into the game against a Villanova team missing Eric Paschall and Phil Booth (concussion and hand injury, respectively), St. John’s certainly had a chance but... Villanova is the #1 team in the country, obviously.
St. John’s couldn’t repeat Duke again, right?
A hot 7-2 start was powered by five points from Justin Simon.
Something to get excited about? Or more of the same old, to fans who have watched this team in Big East play? It would be another hot start and weak finish, maybe. Or Villanova would turn on the jets and crush the spirits of the Red Storm, probably.
St. John’s held the lead for 12 minutes in the first half, until Mikal Bridges hit a three and a jump shot for a personal 5-0 run.
Surely, that would be the end of the Johnnies hopes, right?
Except the half went back and forth until a Bryan Trimble Jr. three-pointer gave the Red Storm the lead for the rest of the half.
Villanova tied the game early in the second half but were on the off foot the rest of the half.
Mikal Bridges hit a three-pointer to bring the St. John’s lead to three points. Surely the end of the hopes, and a nice effort.
But then Villanova failed at executing an inbound pass. On the next possession, Justin Simon took Mikal Bridges off the dribble for the layup. The Johnnies gave up a three-point shot — but DiVincenzo missed. Maybe this was not Villanova’s night?
After the Red Storm broke a Wildcat press, Justin Simon found himself against big man Omari Spellman... and off the dribble, Justin Simon hit a short jumper, part of seven straight from the sophomore point guard. Could this be happening?
Late in the game, slowing things down became a problem. Trying to squeeze the waning five minutes out against Villanova, the Johnnies had some nervy moments — inbounding and passing against the best defensive effort that the Wildcats could muster.
In the final two minutes of the game, Jalen Brunson scored 11 points (plus an assist to freshman Collin Gillespie for a three) to bring the Wildcats to within one in an energetic Wells Fargo Center, forcing the Red Storm to execute crisply on the road. Is this where it falls apart, leaving the fanbase writing in frustration?
You know what? They were good enough in the final minute, with Ponds, Clark, Simon and Tariq Owens hitting 9/12 free throws while committing no turnovers while inbounding to take out the #1 team after beating the #4 Duke on Saturday.
It wasn’t perfect. But they held together, tightly, to a hard-fought win.
Something has turned, and it was glorious once again.
St. John’s may have given Villanova (22-2, 9-2 Big East) their second Big East loss in a way that was fluky. The Wildcats missed a lot of outside shots, Jalen Brunson was quiet until the end, and the Wildcats were missing a pair of rotation players.
But tonight in Philadelphia, the Johnnies also showed veteran poise, talented scoring and offensive sets that took advantage of the chaos Shamorie Ponds causes on the floor.
Shamorie Ponds led the Red Storm with 26 points, five assists and two steals; Justin Simon scored 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Marvin Clark II added 15.
There were shots that Villanova could have made, should have made and will make in the future as they rocket to the postseason; they shot an uncharacterstic 2/18 from beyond the arc in the second half.
The defeat of Duke looks less fluky now that the Red Storm have taken down Villanova in Philly, doesn’t it?
Next up for St. John’s is the team’s first look at the high-powered offense of the Marquette Golden Eagles, at noon in Queens — Carnesecca Arena.