Villanova’s 56 in Second Half Jolt Johnnies

The Villanova Wildcats blew out the St. John’s Red Storm 90-72 on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, as they put up an astonishing 56 points in the second half to get it done.

Villanova, who is ranked 8th in the nation, improved to 14-1 and 2-1 in Big East Conference play. St. John’s falls to 11-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big East Conference. The Johnnies are ranked 24th in the nation now, but with no game between now and when the new rankings come out next Monday, expect them to be out of the Top 25.

St. John’s senior guard D’Angelo Harrison said of the 0-3 Big East start, “You have to think, we don’t have any bad losses. We’re playing good teams and they are giving us our best shot, but we have to fight back and find a way to win. We’re going to do that. We’re going to get together tomorrow, get some treatment and just figure out a way to get this next W. That’s really all that matters now.”

St. John’s held a 35-34 lead at halftime, powered by 16 points from D’Angelo Harrison and 11 points from Phil Greene.

Chris Obepka made a layup to open the second half, and Harrison made one of two free throws to give St. John’s a 38-34 lead at the 19:19 mark. They would maintain that lead in the early stages, as a Harrison layup made it 50-47 St. John’s at 13:36, and Villanova tied it at 50 on the next possession on a three by Kris Jenkins.

A Harrison jumper gave St. John’s the lead again, at 54-52, with 11:52 remaining. Villanova responded with an 11-2 run, with seven points coming from Darrun Hilliard in the span, to take a 63-56 lead with 9:29 to go.

Jamal Branch completed a three-point play to pull the Red Storm within four, at 63-59 with 8:19 left. Jenkins responded by canning a three to give Villanova a 66-59 lead, and on  the next possession, “The Silenced One” Rysheed Jordan committed a turnover, and Sir’Dominic Pointer fouled Hilliard on the fast break. Incredibly, his was Pointer’s fifth foul of the game, leaving St. John’s without one of their best defenders for the final 7 minutes and 47 seconds of the game. Pointer said of fouling out, “It was a bad foul. If I’m not out there to help the team and we’re already a small team, we get even smaller.” Pointer finished with 9 points on 4-for-6 shooting, 2 rebounds, an assist, and 4 blocks.

The Jenkins three was the start of another 11-2 Villanova run that was capped by a Daniel Ochefu layup that gave them a 74-61 lead with 5:32 remaining. On St. John’s ensuing possession, Jordan made a couple of free throws, the only points he would score on a dreadful night, in which the point guard had just 1 rebound, no assists, and 3 turnovers. Jordan made his return to the team after a weekend at home in Philadelphia tending to family issues. A Darrun Hilliard dunk with 3:37 left made it 81-65 Villanova and that basically sealed the game.

Villanova outscored St. John’s 56-37 in the second half, as they made 20 of 29 shot attempts, including seven three-pointers.

Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright was asked if he was ever part of a game in which a team put up 56 points in the second half, and he said, “I just saw that, not sure. Once we were ahead, they started pressing, then you have a choice, you can either hold the ball or you try to attack and score. We could not hold the ball against them, they’re just too quick, too aggressive defensively, we would have turned it over, so we had to decide to just go and score, and they had to keep pressing because they were down, so I’ll take it though.”

St. John’s Head Coach Steve Lavin said of the loss, “Villanova played well for 40 minutes. They executed at a high level tonight. In the first half we performed well, but once [Sir’Dominic] Pointer fouled out and [Chris] Obekpa was hampered by his ankle injury, Villanova exploited the advantage at the rim.”

On the difficulty of the Big East Conference, Lavin said, “The Big East is as strong as any conference in the country. Six teams have been ranked in the [AP] Top 25 at one point or another this season. There are no easy games in this conference, so unless you play at a high level for 40 minutes, you are not going to be in position to win in this league. And even when you play well, it doesn’t guarantee the win.”

Lavin said of what they have to do moving forward, “There are things that we need to improve upon and of course a quality team like Villanova exposes the vulnerabilities of opponents because they are an experienced and deep, championship-level team.”

With an eye already on March, Pointer said of their chances of making the NCAA Tournament, “We all think we can make the Tournament. We just have to get back in the gym and go get treatment to get healthy so we can go up to Providence (next Wednesday) and get a win.”

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