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Villanova weathers the storm; wins in OT

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With the Knicks set to host the Nuggets later that night, the Madison Square Garden staffers looked nervous as the Wildcats and Red Storm played to a 67-67 tie at the end of regulation. Villanova fought back and benefitted from a 3-of-8 free throw shooting performance by the Johnnies in overtime to win the game 79-76. The overtime period cut things so close behind the scenes that the Wildcats were rushed through the press conference and hurried out of the visiting locker room after the game to accommodate the Denver Nuggets who were set to arrive at the arena.

"I'm really proud of our guys," head coach Jay Wright said about the Wildcats. " These are just things we've got to go through as a team. Playing those games where we play ugly on the road and we find a way to win."

St. John’s opened the game hot, scoring 6 points on their first two possessions on consecutive 3-pointers from D'Angelo Harrison, who had 28 points in the game.They carried a lead for the first five minutes of the game before the Villanova offense awoke to pull back within 2 points at the under-12 minute timeout.

The game remained close for much of the first half, with the lead changing five times between the 9:12 minute mark and the 7 minute mark. After Darrun Hilliard hit a 2-point jumper to put the ‘Cats ahead 22-21 with 6:59 on the clock, they would hold on for the rest of the half.

That wasn't the end of the first-half drama, however. On the last Villanova possession of the first half, JayVaughn Pinkston drew some contact while trying to drive the ball inside and the referees called him for a charge. Jay Wright was livid and looked like he was about to run across the floor to yell at the refs before Doug West and another assistant pulled him back.

That foul gave the Johnnies a chance for the last shot of the half, but luckily for the ‘Cats, it was off the mark. The ‘Cats went into the intermission ahead 29-24.

St. John’s came back from the half with a high energy level, and immediately went on a 13-3 run to take a 37-32 lead. The 'Cats started the second half slow, as they did the first, and St. John's would extend their lead out to five points in the first six minutes of the period.

Nova took a 43-41 lead again with 13:37 on the clock on a Maalik Wayns jumper after a Sir'Dominic Pointer committed a flagrant foul for St. John’s. Maalik Wayns connected on both shots from the charity stripe to bring the Wildcats within one point and then, after getting the ball back, nailed a trey on a Darrun Hilliard assist for the lead.

The lead didn’t last very long, however, since Wayns was charged with a technical foul after the basket.

"I was just pumped up, trying to talk to my bench, trying to talk to my teammates, get my teammates going," Wayns told reporters. "I think we went up two on that play and I was trying to get them going, and, you know, it was a technical."

St. Johns made both free throws and proceeded to build up a 50-43 lead before the next Villanova basket — a steal and a layup by Dominic Cheek with 11:32 left on the clock. That play only slowed the bleeding, because the lead stayed with St. John's until the two minute mark. The Red Storm lead by as much as 10 points in the second half.

Villanova would tie the game three more times in the last two minutes of regulation including the Wayns jumper that tied things at 67-67 with 30 seconds left. After that Wayns jumper, St. John's God'sgift Achiuwa turned the ball over to give Villanova one more chance, Wayns took a shot over two defenders and then Cheek and Yarou failed to get the follow-through chances to end regulation tied.

In overtime, three players fouled out of the game, Yarou and Pinkston for Villanova and D'Angelo Harrison for St. John's.

The Wildcats were ready to overcome, however. Taking a 1 point lead on pair of free throws less than a minute into the period, they held on to take a 3-point victory home, their first road win in the Big East this season. St. John's had one last chance to tie the game on a 3-pointer, but Pointer overshot the ball and a Maalik Wayns held it in the corner until time expired.

St. John's missed 5 free throws in the overtime period that would have been crucial to keeping the game close.

"We left the game on the free throw line, it was that simple," Red Storm assistant head coach Mike Dunlap said. "You can talk about the rebounds and you can talk about the turnovers, but the bottom-line is free throws are easy baskets; and when you miss 11 of those it is real simple, something that you have to do better at."

In total, there were 9 lead changes and 7 ties during the hotly-contested game.

Villanova outworked the Johnnies on the glass 52 to 36 and on the offensive glass 24 to 8. Two Villanova players finished the game with double-digit rebounding — Mouph Yarou led the way on the glass with 13 rebounds despite a quiet night on offense with just 4 points.

JayVaughn Pinkston had 12 rebounds to go along with 13 points for his second double-double of the season (the other being in his last game). He did turn the ball over 7 times (tied for team-high with Wayns), but had 2 steals and a block as well.

"JayVaughn is getting to be a go-to guy this year, and he's gaining confidence and we're gaining confidence in him," Wright said. "He will be able to be a real go-to guy next year who can make an impact because he's been through it for a year."

It seems that the rise of Pinkston has affected the opportunities for Yarou, whose offensive production has notably declined in the last few games.

"I think that has affected that. I think Mouph has gotten a lot better defensively, he had 13 rebounds, he's really concentrating on that. I do think we need to get him the ball, he never complains about it ever, but we do need to get him the ball."

Wayns led the Wildcats with 28 points but had just 3 assists.

"He's really learning how to be aggressive as a scorer and also be a distributor and also a defensive player," Wright noted. "I'm really proud of him and he's starting to develop into one of the best players in the country I think."

Cheek contributed 20 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals, while James Bell contributed 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 more steals of his own. The Wildcats picked their opponent's pocket 13 times in total, despite having averaged just 5 per game prior.

"That's the main thing we focus on is defense, and like I said, we started off slow, but I think our defense kept us in the game," Cheek said. "It allowed us to get turnovers at the end and just pull away with the victory."

St. John's had three players who scored in double digits. In addition to Harrison, who had all 4 of his team's made 3-point shots, Phil Greene scored 14 points and Moe Harkless had 16. Pointer led the Johnnies with 9 rebounds.

The Wildcats are now 10-10 on the season and 3-5 in Big East play heading into a tough stretch next week with a trip to Louisville on Wednesday and a home game against a ranked Marquette team on Saturday.

Points Per Possession (84 Possessions)
First Second Overtime Game
Villanova 0.83 0.96 1.2 0.94
St. John's 0.71 1.10 0.88 0.92

Attendance: 11,430