Red Storm defense nearly pulls upset against Villanova

St. John's D'Angelo Harrison reacts to a foul St. John's D'Angelo Harrison reacts to a foul called against him during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Philadelphia. Photo Credit: AP / Chris Szagola

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PHILADELPHIA - St. John's had No. 9 Villanova positioned perfectly for the signature upset it was seeking Saturday at Wells Fargo Center. The transition baskets were starting to come, and the Red Storm had wiped out a six-point deficit to forge a tie with 7:59 left to play.

The Wildcats' next seven possessions produced more turnovers (four) than points (three) as St. John's defensive pressure took full effect. But when it was time to take control of the game, the Red Storm missed nine of its final 10 shots and committed two turnovers in the final 14 seconds of what turned into a disappointing 57-54 loss.

Villanova (24-3, 12-2 Big East) didn't so much outplay the Red Storm (18-10, 8-7) as outlast it. "St. John's without a doubt is a tournament team," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "Not because I say so, but because they're good enough."

The Storm's only two losses in the past 11 games have come at Villanova and Creighton. "I think winning nine of 11 games, and the two losses come against [ranked] teams on their home court, both by three points, [looks good] in terms of the eye test the selection committee always talks about," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "But we can't rely on the eye test. We have to accumulate wins, protect our home court at the Garden and do some damage at the conference tournament. Then we've gone a long way to presenting an impressive body of work."

Red Storm freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan played in his hometown for the first time at St. John's, and center Chris Obekpa shook off an ankle injury to play. Jordan (13 points, six rebounds) had some bright moments but also committed five turnovers. D'Angelo Harrison had 15 points but shot only 4-for-15, and JaKarr Sampson added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

St. John's shot only 32.2 percent from the field but held the Wildcats to 39.2 percent and limited JayVaughn Pinkston to five points. Darrun Hilliard led Villanova with 18 and Ryan Arcidiacono added 12.

When Sir'Dominic Pointer's layup tied it at 47 with 7:59 to play, it seemed the Red Storm was on the verge of making one of its trademark runs. But its defensive prowess was matched by offensive ineptitude.

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"It seemed like there was a cap on the rim," Sampson said. "We got stops and played great defense, but we couldn't make a shot."

The biggest shot of the game was the luckiest. With the score tied at 50, Arcidiacono launched a three-pointer high over a leaping Sampson, and it went in off the glass. "He [Sampson] got so high that I had to put some extra air under it," Arcidiacono said. "It just went in for me. Definitely, you can always use a little luck in a game like this when no one can make a shot."

Trailing 56-53, St. John's had the ball with 3.2 seconds left, but Harrison couldn't get free behind the arc and was fouled going to the basket. He made the first and intentionally missed the second, hoping for a rebound. But Jordan was called for a lane violation, giving the ball back to the Wildcats.After the game, Lavin focused on the future, reminding his players of the importance of winning twice at home against Xavier and DePaul to reach 20 wins and be assured of a winning conference record. Then he pointed out the Big East Tournament is on their home court at Madison Square Garden.

"Three weeks from today are the Big East Conference finals," Lavin said. "So I said, 'Three weeks from today, we're going to be in the locker room at Madison Square Garden. That's where we want to be.' "

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