Villanova is starting to roll again. It was St. John’s misfortune on Tuesday night to be the team in its path. This time there would be no shocker at the hands of the Red Storm, as there was each of the past two years.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats built a double-digit lead in the first half, never let it slip below eight in the second half and cruised past the Red Storm for a 79-59 Big East victory at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova (17-3, 7-1) has won seven straight and 13 of its past 14.
St. John’s (13-9, 2-7) hits the midpoint of the Big East part of its schedule having lost four of its last five. And while the Storm is showing it can be competitive in a very tough conference — though it wasn’t for much of Tuesday night — its only wins have come against DePaul. The Blue Demons were the only team picked to finish behind the Storm in the preseason poll of Big East coaches.
The Storm also experienced something it hasn’t thus far this season. There were a handful of boos late in the game from the St. John’s faithful who remained after most departed when the Wildcats’ lead hit 24 points, 68-44, on Saddiq Bey’s three-pointer with about seven minutes left.
If there was a bright spot for St. John's it was the play of Rasheem Dunn, who finished with 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting; much of the evening St. John’s had to depend on the point guard driving to create something as it shot just 41% and made 13 turnovers. LJ Figueroa added 12 points but on 5-for-14 shooting. Mustapha Heron was held to three points on 1-for-7 shooting and the Storm gave up 10 offensive rebounds that ‘Nova turned into 16 points.
Bey finished with 23 points, including five three-pointers, and point guard Collin Gillespie had 17 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Villanova.
It’s hard to tell if it’s merely because the stakes of St. John’s games at Madison Square Garden have been higher, but the Red Storm have typically played at a higher level in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Although the defense has played at a higher pitch and more frenetically, the results haven’t been there. The Storm is just 2-2 in its four Garden games.
Against the Wildcats, the Storm’s energy was again there. It raced out to leads of 8-1 and 13-6 over the first five minutes. And about midway through the first half St. John’s led 19-15, was 8-for-15 from the floor and had assists on half of its baskets.
That’s when the tide turned on the Storm. It has been an inconsistent shooting team all season and it hit a cold streak late. Simultaneously, Villanova’s crisp passing game appeared to catch up with St. John’s. The ’Cats raced past the Storm and took a 39-26 lead to halftime.
At the heart of it was a 15-2 run during which Bey had six points on a pair of three-pointers and Julian Moore — in the starting lineup for the injured Jermaine Samuels (left foot) — had five points.
Over the final 9:16 before the break, St. John’s was 3-for-15 from the floor. The Wildcats closed shooting 8-for-15.