St. John's cast of young but talented recruits is going through the gantlet of the Big East schedule taking a pounding like the contestants on the ABC game show "Wipeout." They got bounced around again Saturday afternoon by a much bigger Villanova team that outrebounded them 52-36 on the way to a 79-76 overtime victory.
Despite that clear physical dominance by the Wildcats, Red Storm assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who is running things in the absence of recuperating Steve Lavin, felt his young players did a good job of overcoming their deficiencies by playing to their strengths. They got Phil Greene (14 points) involved in the offense in the second half along with primary scorers D'Angelo Harrison (28, pictured) and Moe Harkless (16), and the Red Storm built a 60-50 lead and eventually took the game to overtime.
"These young guys, I marvel at their effort," Dunlap said. "Then, they look you [reporters] in the eye and address your questions in a good way. They don't need to be defensive. It's a wonderful journey for guys learning what the Big East is all about."
The disparity in rebounding was glaring as Villanova turned a 24-8 margin on the offensive boards into 15 more field goal attempts in the game. The Red Storm played well enough on defense to hold the Wildcats to 38.7 percent shooting while themselves shooting 68 percent in the second half and 48.3 percent for the game to make up the difference. But Dunlap chose not to focus on the part of the game that, realistically, was beyond St. John's control.
"We can't control 6-10, 270 pounds,"Dunlap said, alluding to Villanova's 6-10, 255-pound Mouphtaou Yarou and 6-7, 260-pound JayVaughn Pinkston, who combined for 25 rebounds. "But we can make an impact from the free throw line…The stats can drive you crazy as far as rebounds. Villanova is second in rebounding in a very nasty league. But free throws are easy buckets. It's important we stay on point."
Explaining why St. John's made only three of eight foul shots in overtime, which turned out to be the difference in losing a three-point decision, Dunlap admitted there might not have been much life left in his player's legs because they play with a seven-man rotation.
Still, Dunlap said the coaching staff is encouraged by the competitive spirit that not only Harrison showed in a command performance against Villanova but that all his players displayed. Nobody's counting moral victories, but Dunlap said the lessons being learned now eventually will pay dividends.
"These games will have tremendous meaning as they go forward," Dunlap said. "It was a grand effort."