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St. John’s stuns No. 1 Villanova, upset ‘Cats 79-75

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Brunson’s 28 points and Gillespie’s hot hand was not enough to snatch one from the Red Storm

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

St. John’s had been searching for its first Big East victory and came up short 11 other times. On Wednesday night, the Red Storm did the improbable by upsetting the Villanova Wildcats, 79-75.

With the win, Chris Mullin’s team became the first unranked squad to topple back-to-back top 5-ranked opponents since Villanova did so in January 2013.

“We came more than ready to play tonight,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “Anybody can beat you.”

0-11 in conference before Wednesday—it proved to be nothing but a statistic for the St. John’s Red Storm. Fresh off an upset of No. 4 Duke last weekend, the Red Storm showed it was capable of pulling off another shocker.

“Our mindset tonight was no different as it was against Duke nor was it different in any other game, with that being said to go into a game with the approach that we’re going to win,” Mullin said. “Since I was 10 years old, that’s the mindset I will always go into a game with.”

St John’s did not disappoint their audience as they kept every person who stepped through the Wells Fargo Center’s doors on the tips of their toes. St John’s led for the majority of the game, refusing to play comfortable.

From the start, one could tell the game was not about to have Villanova written all over it. The Wildcats seemed to be chasing throughout the night as the Red Storm acted quickly, but too with purpose, as they took the early 7-2 lead, being 3-of-3 from the field within the first 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, the ‘Cats proved to be off to a slow start from the field, connecting on just 2-of-8. However, they were unable to ever settle into the game, as the Red Storm was forced the Villanova offense in taking one too many tough threes.

“They’re good,” Wright said. “They play everybody tough. It’s their defense that got the job done.”

The Red Storm limited Villanova to shoot just 8-of-33 (24.2 percent) from beyond the arc. In the second half alone, St. John’s locked down the three-point line, giving up just 2-of-18 (11.1 percent) shooting from deep.

On the other side of the court, Shamorie Ponds led the Red Storm—just as he did against Duke. He played all 40 minutes of the game, scoring 26 points and dishing out five assists.

At the half, Ponds’ play helped the Red Storm take a 39-34 lead.

Villanova struggled on the floor in the second half, as St. John’s did just enough to keep the ‘Cats at bay. There were a few chances at the end that Villanova looked like it would come back into the game, cutting the lead down to just one.

A 7-0 Wildcat run after a Brunson and-one made it 67-66, with 1:25 to go. However, the Red Storm answered back with an and-one after it broke the press and Donte DiVincenzo fouled Marvin Clark II.

Shortly after, Collin Gillespie—the only Wildcat who was able to hit from deep—drained a clutch three after a Jermaine Samuels offensive rebound, keeping the ‘Cats alive with a one-point game.

After a 1-for-2 trip to the line by Ponds kept the ‘Cats just two points away, Omari Spellman’s shot for the go-ahead three caromed off the rim and into the Red Storm’s hands. The “hack-a-player” strategy employed towards the end didn’t help Villanova, as St. John’s drained its final four free throws to ice the game.

For the ‘Cats, Gillespie was able to strut his stuff, making 4-of-6 threes. He finished with 12 points.

“I’m so proud of the kid,” Wright said. “He’s keeps it simple and does what I ask. Right now he’s seriously getting it done.”

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree had his first career start, going in place of Eric Paschall, who was not in uniform (concussion protocol). Paschall is expected to be out for at least a week. Cosby-Roundtree had two points in 17 minutes of action. Samuels made his appearance since suffering a broken bone in his left hand on Dec. 27 at DePaul - exactly six weeks ago.

Mikal Bridges hit his 1000th career point as a Wildcat, with his basket at 18:54 in the second half. He finished with 11 points. Meanwhile, Spellman had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Look for the Wildcats to come out with a fresh mindset, when they resume action this Saturday against the Butler Bulldogs. Tip-off is at 12 p.m.