The Villanova Wildcats returned home for a Saturday night tilt against the St. John's Red Storm in their first ever home game as the number one team in the country. A slow start filled with missed threes kept the Johnnies in it for awhile but Daniel Ochefu led a second half surge for the Wildcats and won 73-63.
After scoring on their first two possessions, 'Nova made only two of their next eight field goals but held a 8-3 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half thanks to strong defense. The 'Cats started off 0-7 from behind the arc and after a Ron Myouika three, the Wildcats were down 9-8 after the under 12 timeout.
Mikal Bridges' defense caused a backcourt violation on the Johnnies and sparked the Wildcats. There was a big emphasis on being more aggressive attacking the lane and at the under eight media timeout Daniel Ochefu had eight points and the 'Cats held a 18-15 lead.
Both teams were rather sloppy with the ball in the early going as each had seven turnovers by the under four timeout. After missing four field goals in a row, Ryan Arcidianco knocked down two free throws but a Malik Ellison layup made it a 28-27 game at the half.
Ochefu ended the first half with 10 points and 4 rebounds but outside of that the offense was struggling, including going 0-11 from deep. The struggles weren't just from deep however, Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidianco and Phil Booth all did not make a field goal in the games first 20 minutes.
The second half started out all Daniel Ochefu. The senior big man scored eight of Villanova's first 11 second half points, but multiple easy buckets for the Red Storm gave 'Nova only a 41-37 lead. A 7-0 run for the 'Cats, aided by St. John's turnovers, gave 'Nova a 52-42 lead with ten minutes left.
Arcidicano made his third three pointer of the 2nd half with just under seven minutes left and two free throws from Ochefu gave Villanova a 62-49 advantage.
Ochefu finished the game with a career high 25 points on 11-14 shooting and added nine rebounds.
The big man said there wasn't any added urgency in the second half and "we always rely on defense and rebounding to win the game for us."
Head coach Jay Wright said, "Not one of our best performances. They used a lot of length defensively but we got it inside to Daniel and made some great passes [to turn it around]."
Although the Cats struggled from behind the arc in the first half they went 4-8 in the 2nd half, a much better 50%. Turnovers were also a problem for both teams as the 'Cats turned it over 15 times and the Red Storm, 19 times.
This is the first game all season Josh Hart was held to single digit points, going 1-6 from the field and finishing with seven points, nine rebounds, and three assists. The free throw disparity was very large as the Wildcats did a great job of getting to the line, going 23-27 while the Red Storm only went 5-9 from the stripe.
St. John's head coach Chris Mullin said they didn't have a specific game plan to take a lot of three's, "we have to take what's there."
'Nova was also helped by winning the battle of the boards 37-28, led by Ochefu and Hart with nine each. Darryl Reynolds added five caroms and Mikal Bridges and Arch grabbed four apiece.