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St. John’s does it again, stuns No. 1 Villanova for first Big East win

Shamorie Ponds of the St. John's Red Storm

Shamorie Ponds of the St. John's Red Storm reacts in front of Mikal Bridges of the Villanova Wildcats in the final seconds of the game at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Philadelphia. Credit: Getty Images / Mitchell Leff

PHILADELPHIA — It was the most shocking outcome involving a Philadelphia sports team in at least three days. And the most shocking victory for St. John’s in at least four.

Marvin Clark II grabbed a key defensive rebound and sank both ensuing free throws, Shamorie Parks followed with two more free throws, and St. John’s stunned top-ranked Villanova, 79-75, at the Wells Fargo Center to earn its first Big East victory of the season.

A parade honoring the Super Bowl champion Eagles was scheduled to begin the next morning, across the street at Lincoln Financial Field. St. John’s celebration was a bit more subdued. After the game, the Red Storm players hugged each other briefly, then walked off the court.

Maybe it’s because St. John’s coach Chris Mullin expected this.

“I go into every game thinking we’re going to win,” Mullin said. “That’s how I’ve been since I was 10 years old.”

Or maybe the Red Storm is are just getting used to pulling upsets.

It was the first game for St. John’s (12-13, 1-11 Big East) since it shocked No. 4 Duke on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

“The 11 games we lost, a lot of those games were close,” Ponds said. “With that little margin for error we know we can hang with any team in the country.”

Ponds finished with 26 points, five rebounds and five assists. He went 8-for-9 from the free-throw line. Justin Simon added 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Clark II had 15 points and six rebounds.

“It don’t matter to me,” Mullin said. “I’m just happy for them. I’m happy for the players.”

It was the first loss for Villanova (22-2, 9-2) since a December 30 trip to Butler. St. John’s shot 49 percent and held Villanova, which entered the game ranked first in the Big East in scoring offense and defense, to 42 percent shooting.

“When they beat Duke I said, ‘That’s no surprise,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It’s a tough league. I say it when we win and I say it when we lose.”

But could a team with as many losses as St. John’s be a factor in the Big East Tournament?

The former Hofstra coach thinks so. “Especially because we play it in the Garden,” Wright said.

With the exception of a brief stretch late in the first half, St. John’s led throughout. It sure wasn’t easy.

St. John’s led by eight with just a little more than two minutes remaining. Villanova launched a furious comeback by scoring three consecutive baskets on possessions that began with a steal, a block, and then an inbounds clock violation.

Marvin Clark III converted a key three-point play to extend the Johnnies lead to 70-66 and the teams exchanged free throws until Villanova freshman Collin Gillespie hits a deep three-pointer to cut the deficit 74-73 with 23 seconds to go.

As Villanova rallied, the crowd reacted to every basket. But the cheers were because, for one night, an old school Big East rivalry had returned to South Philadelphia.

“Again, I know what I know,” said Mullin, who starred at St. John’s in the ’80s. “So to me this is a rivalry, it always will be. I remember all the games we’ve lost to them. The wins I don’t really remember.”

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