Donte DiVincenzo had some big performances against the St. John’s Red Storm last year, in his first full season as a Wildcat.
Through three meetings against the Johnnies in 2016-17, he averaged 21.3 points per game, shot 21-for-29 overall, and was 7-for-14 from deep.
Saturday night was no different for DiVincenzo, as he had a team-high 25 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, including a dominating display from beyond the arc. DiVincenzo was locked in from deep, knocking down 6-of-9 long range shots, a new career-high for most threes made in a game.
Is it the magic of playing at the Garden? Is it something about St. John’s?
”I honestly don’t know,” DiVincenzo said, laughing.
Regardless, he played a key role in helping the Villanova Wildcats down the Red Storm, 78-71, in front of a packed Madison Square Garden. The Wildcat win leaves St. John’s to look elsewhere for its first Big East victory of the season.
”One of those ugly road victories where you just have to take and go back and watch film, and learn from it,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We didn’t look good, I think the credit goes to St. John’s. I thought they were outstanding defensively..We just never got into sync all night, and you have to give them credit for it.”
DiVincenzo and his teammates overcame a slow shooting start, in a game that started out as a display of two hardnosed defensive efforts. It was a back-and-forth matchup for a majority of the first half, with neither team able to comfortably establish control. The Wildcats’ threes weren’t dropping and a staunch Red Storm frontcourt wasn’t making it easy around the basket. Meanwhile, St. John’s struggled to get any momentum going offensively.
Eventually, DiVincenzo would get his first eight points of the game in rapid succession, a pivotal scoring spurt that gave Villanova a 26-22 lead with 2:35 to go until halftime. St. John’s would call time out and while that put a temporary halt to the game, it didn’t seem to slow down the Wildcats at all. Villanova would close out the first half making their last five of six shots to take a 34-27 lead at the break.
It was a far cry from the 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) start that Villanova had, a beginning that included an ugly 2-of-10 (20 percent) from deep--before DiVincenzo’s scoring burst.
”This game, they make you play one-on-one, and he’s really good at that,” Wright said about DiVincenzo. “They press you up, get in your face, you can’t get tentative...sometimes you just need a guy to go in and make plays.”
The way that DiVincenzo closed out the first half was just the beginning, as he scored 17 of Villanova’s 44 second half points. With 4:10 remaining in the game, he made his sixth 3-pointer, surpassing the mark he had set last season against St. John’s.
”That’s the last thing I look for--scoring,” DiVincenzo said. “I try to be aggressive offensively, but I just try to bring energy off the bench. If we start slow, I just try to bring us up. If’we’re good, I just try to keep that energy going.”
The Wildcats shot a much-improved 50.0 percent on the floor in the second half, going 13-for-26. As a team, they went 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) from beyond the arc during that time.
”I think we did a good job of defending him, but there were some mental errors in the late clock and just messed up,” St. John’s Shamorie Ponds said.
Even with the Wildcats’ revamped success on the offensive end of the court, the game was never truly out of reach. When it seemed like Villanova was pulling away, St. John’s would answer back with a few baskets or force a couple of turnovers. The Wildcats did push the lead into double figures, but it wouldn’t last for long. A dry spell in the closing minutes of the game--one that lasted for approximately three minutes--allowed the Johnnies to climb back into it. A layup by Ponds made it a four-point game with 47 seconds to go, but Villanova would make the necessary free throws to ice the game, as well as a posterizing dunk by Mikal Bridges.
Ponds paced the Red Storm with a career-high 37 points. He was 15-of-28 on the floor and had seven rebounds to go along with his high-scoring performance.
”Whatever my performance was, we didn’t win,” Ponds said. “I’m not satisfied.”
Jalen Brunson had 12 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Bridges had a double-double, with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but turned the ball over five times. Omari Spellman added 10 points and seven rebounds to the winning effort.
Next up for the ‘Cats is a game with their rivals, the Georgetown Hoyas, on Wednesday night. Tip-off is slated for 6:30 p.m.