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Gutted: St. John’s drops BET heartbreaker to Villanova, 66-65

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Free throws in the last 3 seconds undo what was a strong upset bid from the Red Storm in the Big East Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Villanova vs St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

St. John’s fought hard to reach the semifinals in the Big East Tournament, but choked away a 17-point second half lead to Villanova, falling 66-65 in a hard-fought affair.

After reaching the quarterfinals for the sixth straight season, St. John’s looked to play on Friday night in the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2000. However, the Red Storm would have to beat Villanova — the class of the Big East — who had swept the Johnnies in the regular season series.

For a majority of the first half, Villanova dictated the style of the game by establishing a lethargic and unhurried pace. Despite being forced into their half-court offense, which other coaches allegedly described as the “easiest team in the Big East to game plan for” in the half-court due to their lack of offensive sets, St. John’s appeared comfortable playing a slower game for stretches.

The Johnnies were competent offensively in the half-court, as the team did score over .9 points per possession while spending a majority of the half playing at Villanova’s pace. Coach Mike Anderson continued to implore the team to keep pushing the pace and to get out and run after they grabbed a defensive rebound.

Such defensive rebounds were plentiful for the Red Storm, who were considerably effective on the defensive end. The Johnnies prevented the Wildcats for converting a field go for multiple periods of three minutes or more in the half. However, the Red Storm’s game plan to double any Wildcat with the ball in the post began to backfire when the team was unable to force a turnover and the patient Villanova players were able to pivot around until they found an open shooter on the perimeter.

Fortunately for St. John’s, Villanova missed a lot of those open threes, only hitting 5 of 19 before the break, which allowed the Red Storm to go into the half up 30-23.

After the break, St. John’s briefly pulled ahead even further, getting up by as many as 17 early in the second half. During that stretch, Villanova had no layup opportunity without getting fouled on their way to the rim. Over time, the Red Storm softened, and Villanova started their surge.

After the first media timeout of the half, Posh Alexander picked up his third foul and the Red Storm offense began to sputter when the Wildcat defense started effectively forcing Julian Champagnie to catch the ball away from is spots. Powered by a 24-6 run, where Villanova scored its first 12 paint points of the contest, Villanova quickly overtook St. John’s 17 point second half lead and the Red Storm trailed for the first time in the contest.

The two teams battled until the final minute with St. John’s barely holding onto a one-point lead. With over 40 seconds remaining and the ball, the Red Storm forewent the two-for-one and Champagnie missed a clean look to extend the Johnnies’ lead.

With just three seconds left, a strong defensive stand was undone by a referee’s whistle; Villanova’s Brandon Slater drew a foul on Champagnie and knocked down both free throws to complete the comeback with St. John’s falling, 66-65.

St. John’s Red Storm

Julian Champagnie: 23 points (9/19 FG, 1/6 3PT), 9 rebounds, 3 assists

Stef Smith: 10 points (4/11 FG, 1/5 3PT), 2 rebounds

Posh Alexander: 9 points (4/9 FG, 1/1 3PT), 4 rebounds, 5 assists

Villanova Wildcats

Caleb Daniels: 19 points (6/14 FG, 5/9 3PT), 7 rebounds

Justin Moore: 15 points (5/16 FG, 2/9 3PT), 1 rebound, 1 assist