PHILADELPHIA -- At first, it appeared that St. John's would run away with a major game on the road. Rysheed Jordan, backed by a cheering section behind press row, took center stage once again in Philadelphia.
And then, in class Villanova fashion, the Wildcats flashed their brilliance. Daniel Ochefu started snatching every board, Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart began raining triples and the Wildcats stout defensive presence reigned supreme as they ran away from their conference rivals in the regular season finale.
Though the first half was closer than expected, Villanova ousted Big East rival St. John's 105-68 with a 41-10 run spanning nearly the entire second half of game time in front of a close-to sold out crowd Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.
And Steve Lavin didn't mince words when praising the efforts of Villanova. He said that their back-to-back runs were similar to "those years at UNLV or back-to-backs at Duke."
"Villanova played lights out. There's a reason they're 29-2 and the No. 1 seed all but locked up. Hats off to Villanova who's had a lights out season, really back to back seasons. That's as impressive seasons in back-to-back seasons as I can remember...We played the best team in the country on their home court...kids gave an admirable effort but Villanova is a really good team."
The No. 4 Wildcats (29-2, 16-2 Big East) were led during the stretch by junior Ochefu who was one of five 'Cats (Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston, Josh Hart and Dylan Ennis) in double-figures in scoring. He paced Villanova with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks.
This is the first time they've scored over 100 points since 2009 and it's their highest point total since January 18th, 2003 when they beat Rutgers 110-89 on the road. The win also marks the 12th straight conference win, the most in program history for the regular season.
St. John's (21-10, 10-8 Big East) was led by Rysheed Jordan who posted 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting and 8 assists in his Philadelphia homecoming. With the season ending, the Wildcats will be the No. 1 seed next week in the Big East Tournament. St. John's was reduced to the No. 5 seed with the loss and will face Providence on Thursday afternoon.
Jay Wright made it clear in post-game that "every game counts" for his club and it wasn't the loss last year to Seton Hall that had them worried, it was how they played in those games down the stretch at the end of the year. And St. John's Phil Greene followed the lead of his coach. He said "he's not sure" when it came to a way to beat Villanova now at it's peak.
"We were short two guys and we had to fight, but it just didn't go our way. Chris Obekpa and Jamal Branch are a big piece to this team. They bring a different dimension and could have shook things up a bit. But I'm proud of my teammates...we aren't into moral victories. We have to play harder down the stretch."
Wright concluded that any team in the Big East "could make a run" when it comes to a title in March. But he didn't shirk at questions surrounding how good his team could be by time the Big East Tournament. Though, he's not moving past the tournament. It was the same mentality as always for Wright and his club, he kept repeating how the team "loves to play in the Big East Tournament"
Pinkston and Ochefu agreed. The Wildcats are just taking it one game at a time.
"I think we are playing as well as anyone in the country," Wright said. "But I do think we can get beat by a lot of teams in the country. We almost lost to Creighton...that first half was really good basketball. We weren't bad defensively. In the second half we got a little better defensively and they got a little worn down...we were expecting to be in a battle. The way those guards control the tempo, we continued to press them...and then boom. It just exploded."