Despite the Wildcats’ abysmal shooting night, ‘Nova started the game off hot, as they took a quick 10-3 lead with 15:21 remaining in the first half. However, once Greg Williams Jr. slammed an emphatic dunk home to cut Villanova’s lead to one, the tide of the game began to turn in favor of St. John’s with 9:10 left in the first half.
The main contributor to this shift in momentum was undoubtedly the Red Storm’s defense, as the Johnnies harassed Villanova all night. With an effective full court press and impressive interior defense, St. John’s controlled the tempo of the game and forced 17 Villanova turnovers, the most the ‘Cats have turned it over all season.
Although Villanova coach Jay Wright was not surprised by the Storm’s badgering defense, his squad did not respond the way he wanted.
“I think their press was what we expected. I think our response was what I didn’t expect,” admitted Wright. “Their press is outstanding. You get great physicality and great speed, and a great plan. They doubled Collin [Gillespie] and face guarded him, and they made other guys handle the ball. We had a plan for that. We just didn’t execute it well. But I got to give them credit for that.”
The Red Storm’s suffocating defense held Villanova to 32% from the field, and the Wildcats never seemed to find an answer to St. John’s shot-blocking and tenacity. While Villanova’s Jeremiah-Robinson Earl was able to score 14 points and grab 17 rebounds in spite of the Storm’s aggressive play, he still recognized St. John’s talent across the board.
“I mean, they’re a nasty team. They get after it from the start and they’re just a really tough team,” Robinson-Earl stated. “They play really hard, they play really tough, and we just need to be more solid and be more together. But they’re a really good team. I don’t think their record does them justice.”
On the offensive side of the ball, St. John’s was in control. The Johnnies shot 43% from three-point range and came out of halftime looking sharp, as they scored seven unanswered to start the second half.
Leading the scoring attack for the Red Storm was Posh Alexander. The impressive freshman had 16 points, six assists, and three steals. Supporting Alexander was Julian Champagnie, and while the Big East’s leading scorer had a quiet first half, he came alive late and nabbed 11 rebounds along with 14 late points.
Most notably for Champagnie, he drilled a three to give the Storm a 12 point lead with 3:42 remaining in the game, effectively clinching the win for St. John’s.
Coming into this matchup, the Johnnies were playing their best basketball of the season, and with this win against a nationally ranked team, they proved their mettle. Even in defeat, Jay Wright was ready to give the Johnnies their credit.
“You got to give them the credit for [their performance],” said Wright. “What they’re trying to do is to disrupt you and get you out of your decision-making, and that’s what they did a great job of tonight.”
With this loss, Villanova’s nine game winning streak has come to an end, and they will look to bounce back against a Georgetown team coming off a massive win against No. 15 Creighton.