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St. John’s finishes series sweep with 70-50 win over Villanova

For the first time in 31 years, Villanova got swept by the Johnnies.

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

Stop if you’ve heard this one before — Villanova was off to a slow start and fought back to close the gap, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion.

Except this time, the heartbreak wasn’t a close affair down the stretch, but rather bundled in a big second half by the Johnnies, which managed to push their lead as high as 22, before finishing with a 70-50 victory.

“St. John’s just came out and set the tone, and played extremely hard,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “They threw the first punch, and we never recovered.

“They present a different game than other teams and they came out and executed perfectly. In the half court we got stops, but them turning us over and getting offensive rebounds was too much for us to overcome. ... They don’t want you to run offense. They get you to play helter-skelter and do a good job of changing things up. They’re very physical. They did what they did better than what we did.”

St. John’s pushed its lead into double figures early on, using a 15-2 run midway through the first half to pull away from the ‘Cats. Villanova had only one made shot over the final five minutes of the first half, as St. John’s took a 32-22 lead at the break.

The Wildcats would fight back after halftime and manage to trim the deficit down to just five points, prompting a couple of St. John’s time outs each time.

The last time ‘Nova made it close, an Eric Dixon layup to make it a 42-37 game with 10:42 remaining. Rick Pitino would call time out, and the Johnnies responded with a game-sealing 14-2 run to pull away.

“I just kept reminding them of the Marquette game, how we let them back in it,” Pitino said. “When you play a Villanova team, it’s not going to be a high-scoring game. It was a little bit at their place, but we outrebounded them 42-23 and had 17 assists. These guys were brilliant.”

Joel Soriano led the charge for St. John’s, putting together another big game against the ‘Cats. He had a game-high 21 points, with nine rebounds. However, as a team, the Johnnies won nearly every facet of the game.

St. John’s had 15 offensive rebounds for 17 second-chance points. The Red Storm converted 11 Villanova turnovers into 18 points. They outscored ‘Nova in the paint, 30-24, and their bench also outscored the Wildcat reserves, 26-14.

The Wildcats struggled to find a groove, shooting just 18-of-48 (37.5%) overall and 4-of-25 from long range.

“I think about the turnovers and offensive rebounds, we take care of that, I think we have a different outcome,” Neptune said. “... Sometimes you make shots, sometimes you miss shots. For them, they were 5-for-19 (from three). For me, I look at the turnovers, the rebounds — that was the difference in the game.”

With the win, St. John’s got its first sweep over Villanova since the 1992-93 season. Along with ending the 31-year drought, they also got their first 20-point win over the ‘Cats since 1998.

“Since I’ve been here, they’ve been kicking our butts, so I’m just very happy,” Soriano said. “Every game is a lot on you, but we knew this game was definitely important. We played a great team that usually brings a lot of fans in our building. They had a lot of energy. Just proud of our guys who played hard, especially on defense.”

Aside from Soriano, Jordan Dingle chipped in 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. Daniss Jenkins had nine points, four boards and six assists. Glenn Taylor Jr. added nine more points off the bench. As a team, St. John’s shot 28-of-60 overall (46.7%) and 5-of-19 (26.3%) from deep.

For Villanova, Eric Dixon paced the ‘Cats with 16 points and eight rebounds. T.J. Bamba had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

With the loss, the ‘Cats fall to 11-8 overall and 4-4 in Big East play. They have now lost four of their last five games, and will have another tough road game coming up, as they prepare for Butler on Saturday afternoon. That game is scheduled to tip off at 3 p.m. ET.

“We just got to get better,” Neptune said. “You think back to even when we played (St. John’s) last, you can tell they’re playing at a different level. That’s what it is this time of year, if teams get better, they have a chance. (St. John’s) got better defensively and they played harder, and we got to continue to get better.”