PHILADELPHIA - Steve Lavin gathered his players after St. John's worst loss in more than a decade and told them about his first season as head coach at UCLA, when his 1996-97 team lost to Stanford by 48 points.
"They call it the Maple's Massacre," he said. The Bruins won the conference title and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Then he told them about his second season, when his team lost by 41 to North Carolina "in what they call the Alaskan Avalanche." The Bruins reached the Sweet 16.
The message was clear after shorthanded St. John's was throttled, 105-68, by No. 4 Villanova in the regular-season finale Saturday at a packed and rowdy Wells Fargo Center. It was the Wildcats' highest score in three seasons. The 37-point defeat was St. John's worst since a 42-point loss (97-55) at No. 3 Duke on Feb. 24, 2002.
Villanova (29-2, 16-2 Big East), which has won 12 consecutive games and is eyeing a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, rallied from an 11-point deficit to take a 50-46 lead at halftime, then closed the game with an absurd 43-10 run, earning a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 19,161 fans. The Wildcats set a program record for regular-season victories. The previous high-water mark was 28 last season.
St. John's (21-10, 10-8), which had its winning streak snapped at four games, was missing senior guard Jamal Branch and junior center Chris Obekpa because of groin and ankle injuries, respectively.
"Coaches know . . . if you're in this thing long enough, and you're down two of your best players, and you're playing the best team in the country . . . on their home floor, you're going to take it on the chin," Lavin said. "And obviously, we down the stretch didn't want D'Angelo [Harrison] to get injured or other guys to get banged up, so it was good to play our bench and get our reserves in there, get our walk-ons in there."
St. John's enters the Big East Tournament having won seven of nine games, but it missed an opportunity to surpass last season's win total. The Storm nevertheless tied a record for most regular-season victories in Lavin's tenure. He's led St. John's to at least 20 wins in three of his four full seasons in Queens.
"We did what we could do with what we had," St. John's guard Phil Greene said, "but we're not into moral victories. We felt that we should have played better down the stretch."
St. John's was outscored 55-22 in the second half and 48-18 in the paint. Rysheed Jordan scored 21 points, Greene had 16 and Harrison added 15 for the Red Storm.
Daniel Ochefu had 21 points and nine rebounds to lead Villanova. JayVaughn Pinkston scored 18. They totaled 15-for-18 shooting.
The Wildcats shot 56.1 percent and committed only three turnovers. The Storm shot just 34.5 percent in the second half and 43.9 percent for the game.
St. John's has lost the last seven meetings with Villanova, including a 90-71 setback Jan. 6 in New York. The Red Storm last defeated the Wildcats on Feb. 26, 2011, in Philadelphia.
The Big East Tournament will begin Wednesday at MSG. St. John's opens against Providence on Thursday.
"The first half is what I think you're going to see from St. John's healthy in the Big East Tournament," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I think they're a very good team. And I think when Obekpa's playing, Branch is playing, everybody's healthy, and you run into that team in the Big East Tournament, that's going to be a tough matchup."