Even with Rysheed Jordan back in the lineup, St. John's six-man rotation was no match for No. 8 Villanova, which handed the Red Storm its second straight home Big East loss, 90-72, Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Jordan was quiet as a church mouse with two points, shooting 0-for-6 from the field, and what looked like a promising season for No. 24 St. John's now is clouded by an 0-3 conference start.
Darrun Hilliard led Villanova (14-1, 2-1) with 21 points, Dylan Ennis added 15, Daniel Ochefu had 13 plus 12 rebounds, and Phil Booth scored 11. The Wildcats dominated inside, shooting 55.7 percent and crushing the Red Storm on the boards, 40-21. D'Angelo Harrison scored 25 for the Red Storm (11-4, 0-3), and Phil Greene had 14. Jordan took just one shot in the second half.
After the game, Harrison was wearing an ice pack on his right knee and had a cut and swollen lower lip, but the fighter in him said St. John's still can make the NCAA Tournament. "We don't have any bad losses," Harrison said. "We're playing great teams. We've got to fight back and find a way to win."
After three days of turmoil surrounding the so-called "indefinite leave of absence" taken by sophomore Jordan following the death of his grandmother, the Red Storm came out determined to give Big East favorite 'Nova their best shot. Jordan was on the bench when the game began, and when he was in the game during the first half, he made no impact, missing all six shots he took.
It was left to veterans Harrison and Greene to lead the way with some expert shooting in the first half. The Red Storm took a 35-34 halftime lead, and those two totaled 27 points on combined 11 of 17 shooting, including 3 of 6 on threes.
Villanova took a six-point lead, but St. John's put together a 14-7 run before halftime. Greene hit three straight shots during that stretch, inadvertently banking one in off the glass, before Harrison made the last two buckets. On the last play of the half, Harrison blocked a layup by the Wildcats' Ryan Arcidiacono, and both crashed heavily to the floor. Harrison got up limping with a right knee contusion but returned for the second half.
The game changed in the second half when foul trouble for Chris Obekpa and Sir'Dominic Pointer showed just how fragile the Red Storm is in terms of depth. Big man Obekpa picked up his third foul at the 18:55 mark of the second half and later was in and out with a twisted ankle at the 12:16 mark and his fourth foul at 10:02.
A three-point play by Jamal Branch pulled the Red Storm within 63-59, but Pointer picked up his fourth and fifth fouls 23 seconds apart and sat down for good. Villanova's 6-11 Ochefu began to dominate inside, and it turned into a runaway.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright said St. John's foul trouble was like a green light to go to the basket. "That's why the score got the way it was," he said of the blowout. "They can't foul. They have to trap without fouling."
St. John's Steve Lavin agreed. "You need to get to the second half and not be in foul trouble," he said, "because then you start to play tentative."