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Villanova crushes St. John’s in Big East Tournament quarterfinals

Kassoum Yakwe  of the St. John's Red Storm

Kassoum Yakwe  of the St. John's Red Storm attempts a shot against the Villanova Wildcats during the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden  on Thursday, March 9, 2017.  Credit: Steven Ryan

Chris Mullin is a Hall of Fame basketball player trying to find success coaching the sport at St. John’s. Jay Wright might one day enter the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach. Wright experienced losing in his formative years. Mullin still is immersed in them.

The Red Storm went from an old-school victory over Georgetown Wednesday night to being schooled by the top-seeded Wildcats, 108-67, on Thursday in a Big East Tournament quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. The 41-point defeat equaled St. John’s all-time low, a 100-59 rout by Creighton on Feb. 28, 2016.

Mullin is 27-37 in two years at St. John’s, which ended its season 14-19. Wright is 505-245 in a career that started at Hofstra in 1994. The defending NCAA champion Wildcats (29-3) will play Seton Hall in a semifinal Friday.

For St. John’s, it was a quick 15-hour turnaround and a reminder that the Red Storm remains a work in progress.

Villanova played a nearly flawless first half with a precision group committed to winning another title. Kris Jenkins started the game with a three-pointer and proceeded to score Villanova’s first nine points. The lead was 13 before the midway point of the half and grew to 52-26 by intermission.

The Wildcats were just warming up. They hit 51.5 percent from the floor but surpassed that in a 56-point second half in which they shot 79.2 percent to finish at 63.2 for the game. Donte DiVincenzo had a career-high 25 points, one of six Wildcats in double figures. Jenkins (24), Eric Paschall (17), Josh Hart (15), Jalen Brunson (14) and Dylan Painter (10) were the others.

St. John’s shot 40 percent in the first half, 47.4 overall, and Villanova did not commit a foul until the second half. “It’s pretty good defense,’’ Mullin deadpanned afterward.

While Wright remained nattily attired, Mullin already had changed out of his suit and into athletic wear. He seemed glum and perhaps a bit shocked by the margin, which tied the tournament record. It was the most points ever scored by Villanova in a tournament game.

Mullin, 53, could have said his players were tired from the Georgetown game, a tightly contested and heated confrontation of Big East powerhouses of yesteryear, but he made no excuse.

“Quick turnaround, but that had nothing to do with it,’’ he said. “Villanova is one of the best teams in the country. So give all credit to them.’’

Wright, 55, knows the right thing to say, so no gloating over a lopsided victory. “I thought the game they played last night was a gutsy old Big East game,’’ he said, “pretty cool to watch.’’

This one was the opposite. Marcus LoVett and Bashir Ahmed scored 12 points apiece as the Red Storm couldn’t mount much of an offense.

St. John’s did not respond to a report that said LoVett is noncommittal about returning next season.

Mullin was asked what it would take to make St. John’s an NCAA Tournament team.

“I think defensively we need to improve,’’ he said. “I do think a lot of that will come with strength and maturity. I think a lot of people, me included, [believe] players improve in the offseason. That’s the best time to do it.’’


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