Walking into Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Jay Wright's seventh-seeded Villanova squad was a solid "bubble" team for the NCAA tournament. At the conclusion of the 66-53 game with St. John's in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament, the Wildcats have definitively played their way into March Madness.
"Give St. John's a lot of credit...they lost their leading scorer and you're not just going to find one," Villanova's Jay Wright said after the game. "When you lose your leading scorer, that's huge. A guy like Harrison draws another person. Without him, it's hard to prepare. They're not as explosive without Harrison on the floor."
The win improves Nova's record to 20-12 (11-8 in the conference) as the Wildcats overcame 16 turnovers while out-rebounding the Red Storm by a 32-28 margin.
Mouphtaou Yarou paced all scorers with 18 points on 9-10 shooting.
"It wasn't a surprise to see how good [Yarou] was tonight," the coach stated. "Mouph made some great post-up plays.
"He's a guy who came from Africa, but he's a #Villanova basketball player."
Despite being tied at the intermission Villanova used a 10-2 run to edge a breathable lead on St. John's. The Red Storm, showing complete resiliency retaliated with a 5-0 run- which was immediately followed by a dubious timeout call by SJU coach Steve Lavin with 7:19 to play. The questionable decision took the wind out of the the Red Storm's sails and Nova pounced with a 9-2 spurt. following it with a 9-2 spurt and 16 of the games 24 final points.
"We were too tentative with our pressure in the first half...it was like we were creating offense for them."
Freshman point guard and All-Conference Rookie Team honoree, Ryan Arcidiacono added 15 points, 5 assists, and 6 boards (and 8 turnovers).
"We have the benefit of a freshman coming in who knows the history and knows what we want," Wright explained. "It's really gratifying for me to see these young guys commit to #Villanova basketball."
JayVaughn Pinkston added 12 points and 9 rebounds in his New York City homecoming as the Wildcats shot 22-54 (40.7%) from the floor while connecting on 19 of 23 (82.6%) free throws- all in the second half.
"They did a great job keeping the ball out of Pinkston's hands in the post . . . He's come a long way...he's just gotten smarter as a basketball player. He's a very coachable guy."
Villanova will next face #4 Louisville on Thursday in the Quarterfinals. Tipoff is set for 7p.