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St. John’s Storms Back to Upset Villanova in the Garden, 71-65

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Villanova, up by as many as eighteen, goes frigid in the second half and drops a winnable game on the road against St. John’s.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats took a painful loss on the road against the St. John’s Red Storm, 71-65, in a game they will soon try to forget.

The first half saw Villanova jump out to a lead as large as 18 by virtue of a balanced scoring attack and strong transition and rim defense. Saddiq Bey led the WIldcats with eight, Joe Cremo chipped in six, and Phil Booth and Eric Paschall each added five in the half. With St. John’s throwing zone looks at VIllanova early, the Wildcats capitalized, moving the ball well and taking 20 of their 30 shots from three, making eight.

Justin Simon had 12 points on 4-5 shooting at the half, and a margin of 14 was reduced to 11 when Simon guided in a more than three-quarters length shot at the buzzer. Red Storm star point guard Shamorie Ponds struggled through the half, scoring just three and turning the ball over twice. The Johnnies were ice cold for most of the first half, shooting 31.0% from the floor and 10.0% from three, but managed to get to the line 13 times, helping to keep the game within reach.

In the second half, St. John’s came out strong, with Marvin Clark II hitting two threes. Clark II picked up his fourth just before the under-16 timeout, and the Wildcats took advantage, turning an eight point advantage into 14 at the under-12 time out. That advantage evaporated after some cold shooting and sloppy play, as St. John’s cut the lead down to just three with 11 minutes to play.

“They really stepped it up defensively and started pressing us a little bit,” Coach Jay Wright told reporters after the game. “We turned the ball over a couple of times, they got out in transition, and it really got them going.”

The Red Storm took the lead with 7:20 to go on the clock on an LJ Figueroa three, 54-53. The WIldcats managed to keep it close by forcing their way to the line, getting St. John’s into foul trouble and getting into the double bonus with 6:29 left on the clock. Villanova got to the line 24 times total, 21 of which came in the second half.

Nova regained the lead with just over four minutes to play, but Figueroa’s hot shooting continued and his three with 3:51 left gave St. John’s a one point lead going into the final three minutes of play. Figueroa was difficult for Villanova to handle late in game, as the 6’6” sophomore hit three threes, grabbed 12 rebounds, and drew seven fouls in the game.

With St. John’s up by two with two minutes to play, Phil Booth earned a trip to the line with a chance to tie the game but missed both crucial free throws. On the other end, Mustapha Heron made both of his free throws attempts to extend the St. John’s lead to four. The Wildcats converted their chances at the line, shooting 75.0%, but Booth’s misses invigorated the MSG crowd.

With under a minute left, Villanova cut the lead to four, but that’s as close as it would get. Villanova squandered several possessions late, and St. John’s made 18-20 second half free throws to earn a 71-65 victory.

In a game that ended up being a tale of two halves, Villanova’s rushed shots and turnovers in the second turned the tide in favor of St. John’s. One of the by-products of the WIldcats’ cold shooting and sloppy play was the team’s inability to keep St. Johns in-check in transition or set up a half court defense.

In the first half, mixing man and zone defensive looks seemed to confound the Red Storm and produce bad shots.

Coach Jay Wright, when asked about his team’s half-court defense said, “it did hurt a little bit [not being able to get into set defenses]. They got it going, and then once they got it going we threw zone and they hit a couple threes. Before that, when we were more in control, it was kind of taking them out of their rhythm. Then, when they got their rhythm, and I think, whatever we would have done at that point, they weren’t missing shots.”

St. John’s shot 53.8% from three in the second half and got out to 26 points in transition, 21 coming in the second half. The Johnnies seemed to be enjoying themselves late in the second half, playing freely while the WIldcats looked tight and uncomfortable.

"Honestly, to me, you get a stop on defense--especially against a good offensive player--you feel a little better about yourself and the team concepts," said Mustapha Heron on what sparked the Johnnies' run. "How we play help defense and stuff like that — it feels really good and it’s really fun when we get stops.”

L.J. Figueroa led all scorers with 22 points, shooting 6-16 from the floor and 3-6 from three. The WIldcats were led by Joe Cremo who finished with 14 points on 4-7 shooting, all four of his makes coming from three.

The next game for the Wildcats will be Wednesday, 2/20, at Georgetown.