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St. John’s falls at Villanova, 76-71

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St. John’s held a big lead. But the Wildcats took the lead back — and then some.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Storm hoped they could outshoot the Wildcats at home. And the Johnnies came close, starting off by building a 13-point lead in the first half. But a late surge by the home Wildcats gave them the win, 76-71.

St. John’s is 2-2 in Big East play and 14-2 overall.

Villanova improves to 12-4 and 3-0, in clear possession of first place in the Big East.

St. John’s takes on DePaul next, at a sold-out Carnesecca Arena, on Saturday afternoon.

St. John’s jumped out to a lead going on a 14-2 run. The Red Storm lead was cut by Villanova going on a 12-2 run of their own, and the Wildcats scored the last 5 points of the half to minimize the deficit to five.

The two teams combined for 38 attempts from deep, with St. John’s taking 75% of their shots from beyond the arc. The Red Storm made 9 of their 21 attempts from beyond the arc while Villanova made 6 of their 17.

But the Wildcats were able to keep it close for a majority of the half thanks to Eric Paschall. Paschall led all scorers at the half with 17 points (6/9 FG, 3/5 3PT) and 3 rebounds.

Leading the Red Storm into the half with a 39-34 lead was none other than Shamorie Ponds. Ponds dished out 3 assists in the first 5 minutes of the game, and finished the half with 15 Points (5/8 FG, 3/6 3PT) and 4 assists.

After St. John’s started the second half well, getting the lead up to 9, Villanova went on another run, 12-2, to acquire a 1 point lead with 14 minutes left.

Ponds made a layup to regain the lead, but concerns of fatigue for the 7-man rotation arose. Mustapha Heron was saddled with four fouls, and with four minutes left, LJ Figueroa rolled his ankle on a drive and sat the crucial late minutes.

After a Bryan Trimble Jr. three and a Justin Simon shot in traffic, it looked like the Red Storm had regained their balance.

But the Wildcats would not quit. Villanova gained control behind a 10-0 run, which featured a pair of made contested threes off the dribble from Phil Booth, recreating his national championship heroics at home. The second trey, in the face of Heron, gave the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.

Villanova needed to fend off the Johnnies with continued their run with 4 made free throws down the stretch by Jermaine Samuels.

Ponds converted a big jumper of his own to keep the game within 3.

However, after forcing a miss, St. John’s was unable to secure a rebound with 9 seconds remaining. Saddiq Bey corralled the rebound, and Villanova held on for a 76-71 win.

It was a hard fought battle. But once again, the experience and grit of Villanova keeps them on top. The two teams meet again in the Garden on Sunday, February 17th.

St. John’s Red Storm

Shamorie Ponds: 25 points (8/18 FG, 4/11 3PT), 1 rebound, 6 assists, 1 turnover

LJ Figueroa: 14 points (5/8 FG, 4/6 3PT), 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover

Justin Simon: 13 points (6/14 FG, 0/3 3PT), 6 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 turnover

Villanova Wildcats

Eric Paschall: 25 Points (8/14 FG, 3/5 3PT), 8 rebounds, 2 turnovers

Phil Booth: 23 Points (8/16 FG, 6/11 3PT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers