Behind another strong performance from beyond the arc, the Villanova Wildcats cruised past St. John’s in a 73-62 win.
After a slow start to the game, a 3-pointer from redshirt senior Caleb Daniels with 6:01 remaining in the first half ignited a blistering 16-0 run for the Wildcats. Following the run, ‘Nova held a 36-19 lead over the Johnnies, and they did not look back in the second half.
During this game-deciding stretch, Villanova head coach Jay Wright saw his team take over.
“They were moving the ball and making the extra passes,” said Wright. “We weren’t holding on to the ball for too long and we were keeping our heads up.”
This kind of unfazed play helped Villanova find open shooters and stay ahead of the Johnnies’ fullcourt press.
At the end of the first half, the ‘Cats were shooting a scorching 75% from behind the 3-point line. By the end of the game, Villanova went 21-of-48 from the field (43.8%) and a solid 11-of-23 (47.8%) from 3-point range.
Per usual, Villanova was led by Collin Gillespie in the win, as he had 17 points and 3 rebounds. He and the other ballhandlers for ‘Nova faced pressure nearly the entire game, but they overcame the harassing defense by sticking to what they know.
“I think our success against the pressure came from us playing off our concepts and our habits,” said Gillespie. “We did a good job moving the ball so guys got in the lane and kicked it out opposite and made some extra passes. And I think with the pressure that you face from [St. John’s], you have to play like that to be good against them.”
Along with doing a great job at breaking the Red Storm’s press, Villanova also locked down the Johnnies for almost the whole game.
St. John’s averages around 80 points per game, yet the Wildcats held them well below their average and covered the 3-point line well too. The Red Storm shot a measly 4-of-21 from 3-point land, and prolific Big East scorer Julian Champagnie was held to nine points on 4-for-12 shooting from the field.
Wright specifically credited Justin Moore for his defense on Champagnie, and overall he was pleased with the entire team’s effort against an aggressive St. John’s squad.
“It’s a good Big East win,” said Wright. “St. John’s is tough. They’re really tough, but I was proud of our guys’ great leadership.”
Redshirt sophomore Eric Dixon and Daniels also had impressive performances in the victory, contributing 15 points each.
It was not just Villanova’s togetherness that secured the win though, as the Johnnies did themselves no favors at the free throw line.
From the charity stripe, the Red Storm went 8-of-17, missing key scoring opportunities that could have made a difference late in the game.
St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson was obviously not pleased with his team’s free throw shooting, and he stated his thoughts on their woes plainly.
“We don’t make our free throws, and [Villanova] makes theirs,” said Anderson.
Ultimately, free throws were a big difference-maker, as ‘Nova went 20-of-24 from behind the line and showed why its one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country.
With the win, Villanova (16-5 overall) improves to 9-2 in the Big East Conference and stays right with Providence in the race for first place. The Johnnies fall to 11-8 overall and 3-5 in conference in what has, so far, been a disappointing season for them.
Up next for the Wildcats is a rematch with the red-hot Marquette Golden Eagles on Wednesday night at the Fiserv Forum. With conference play more than halfway over, this revenge game will be critical in the crowning of the Big East regular season champ.