With around 2:45 left, Jay Wright brought in the "waste-time-play". At first, it seemed to be too early. But on the back of three offensive rebounds, and a loose ball, the Villanova Wildcats were able to burn off nearly 90 seconds of play, and they hung on for a 57-54 win over the St. John's Red Storm at the Wells Fargo Center.
Darrun Hilliard led the Wildcats with 18 points on 6-8 shooting, Ryan Arcidiacono added 12, and Daniel Ochefu grabbed 11 rebounds. For St. John's, D'Angelo Harrison led with 15 points, and Rysheed Jordan contributed 13 in his return to Philadelphia. Jakaar Sampson recorded a double-double with 12 and 10.
With 1:14 left, Sampson missed one of two free throws and could only cut the lead to 3, at 54-51. But Arcidiacono failed to inbound the ball, and it gave the Red Storm the ball at their own end. Harrison hit a floater and the lead was cut to 1.
Ochefu was fouled going to the rim with 33.8 seconds left, and he made one of two free throws, and SJU couldn't get a good shot off with multiple chances. A Harrison 3-pointer was blocked by Bell, Phil Greene traveled, and a desperation heave failed as time expired.
Hilliard opened up the scoring in the second half with his fourth tre, and soon after Josh Hart hit his first 3-pointer in over a month. Villanova opened up a 38-32 lead at the first media timeout.
Jordan made multiple great plays to make layups and jumpers, but drew his third foul and left the game. He had been guarding Bell effectively to that point, but Bell dropped a three almost immediately after, and he then brought the crowd into it with a resounding block on the defensive end.
But the Red Storm refused to quit. Harrison, who started the game on a cold streak, hit a 3-pointer from the corner, and Villanova began to slow up on defense. Missed shots led to continuous fastbreak opportunities for the Johnnies. Jordan hit a 15-foot jumper, and then Pointer finished a transition layup to tie the game up at 47 with 7:59 to go.
Bell buried a deep three-ball that got the crowd into it, but the Wildcats followed that up with some very sloppy play. Multiple turnovers on out-of-bounds or backcourt calls, as well as sloppy fouls and ball-handling. A Phil Greene free throw tied the game up at 50.
But Arch would not leave the crowd disappointed. He made a ballsy, step-back three with Greene in his face, off the backboard, for a 53-50 lead.
St. John's had been on a tear lately, winning six straight after a close road loss at Creighton. But Villanova opened the scoring quickly with a 3-pointer from Hilliard. Pinkston followed with a layup, and Hilliard hit another three off the dribble to open the lead to 8-0.
But Greene responded with a two quick threes on transition opportunities to get the Red Storm back in the game. The Johnnies took a 9-8 lead before Hilliard hit his third three of the day. Bell got into the three-ball party as well and it was 16-13 Villanova at the under-12 timeout.
A few minutes later, Sir'Dominic Pointer was awarded a technical for hanging on the rim. It was a great entry pass but the technical was a fair call.
It was back-and-forth for the rest of the half. St. John's missed multiple step-back jumpers, almost as if they were afraid to penetrate completely. They got a step on their defenders, but then tried to make the extra move. Meanwhile, Villanova struggled to make their shots inside the arc.
Obekpa came off the floor limping with about 5 minutes to go in the first half, and the 'Cats became much more willing to drive inside. Josh Hart made a very athletic layup, although his three-ball drought continued. That stopped a 5:34 gap without a made field goal for Villanova. Hilliard followed with a dunk off a beautiful pump-fake.
A technical was called against Jay Wright with 2:10 remaining for arguing a traveling call. It was very quick so there must have been a trigger word that set off the ref. St. John's made both free throws and kept the game tight.
Ochefu slammed home a dunk and the Johnnies added two more free throws before Pinkston missed a buzzer-beater, and the Wildcats took a 28-27 into halftime.
In the first half, Hilliard paced 'Nova with 11 points, and Pinkston contributed five rebounds. The Wildcats shot 39% from the field while St. John's only managed to hit 28% of theirs. 'Nova only took four free throws in the first half, something that was drastically different from the 40 they took in MSG last month.
Some quotes from the presser:
"It was a Big East battle right to the end." -Lavin
"There's some good things ahead of us if we take advantage of our opportunities. We've got a few more on our home court, and then we've got the conference tournament, which also happens to be on our own court." -Lavin
"I had to take it with confidence, and it went in for me. A little luck always helps." -Ryan, on his bank 3-pointer
"Not really. I know we're a good free throw shooting team. We might just be a little tired. Our plan between Providence and this game was to go in with fresh legs, and we'll be fine on Wednesday." Wright, when asked about free throws