The Red Storm battled hard throughout, but fell flat against Villanova in a great conference game Saturday afternoon at the Garden. Brooklyn native Jayvaughn Pinkston led the way for Nova in a homecoming game, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes of play while guard Josh Hart finished with 14 points--including the clinching layup in the final minute that put St. John's away for good.
The contest was a classic Big East game that featured tough defense, tight officiating, a raucous crowd and star players rising to the occasion. In the first half, St. John's made it a priority to stop Villanova on the perimeter by stretching its defense and playing each Nova guard closely. The Wildcats responded by using their size and fed Pinkston inside, who scored the first seven Villanova points. While Nova attacked inside, St. John's settled for mid-range jumpers and fell behind by six. St. John's looked poor in the halfcourt so Head Coach Steve Lavin implemented a soft press that had St. John's guards hound Nova's point guard up and down the court. The plan resulted in a turnovers and easy scores, including a momentum-swinging steal and dunk by Rysheed Jordan with 8:30 left in the first half. After trading buckets and missed layups (neither team shot better than 35 percent for the game), St. John's took a 33-31 lead into the break.
"I thought St. John's played really well, their defense was outstanding," said Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright. "The did a good job of getting up in all of our people one-on-one and challenging them. In the first half they won the battle."
Freshman Rysheed Jordan came out on fire to open the second half and kept the Johnnies in the game by attacking the bucket and finishing at the rim. Jordan, who finished with 12 points and 5 boards, scored St. John's first four points of the second half and later had the Villanova defense on skates with a sick crossover and finish. But, Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono came through for his team and nailed a 3-pointer to put his team up 53-52 with eight and a half minutes to go. Arcidiacono was tremendous, bringing a calming presence to the team and made smart play after smart play. The sophomore finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 31 minutes.
With about five minutes left, Villanova guard Darrun Hilliard hit his sole bucket of the game, a dagger 3-pointer that put the Wildcats up seven. Much like they did against Syracuse, the Red Storm fell apart down the stretch. Instead of slowing the ball down and trying to work for good looks, the Red Storm continued to play at a frantic pace that led to turnovers and bad shots. A better coached Villanova team looked much more composed and instead of forcing things, let St. John's make mistakes. Nova was the better coached, more disciplined team and came away with a tough road win to drop St. John's to an 0-3 start in conference play.
"We definitely have played as tough a schedule as anyone in the Big East," said Lavin. "The week we made progress...Competing, playing together, sustaining your effort that only gives you a chance to win, it doesn't guarantee you're going to win...Nothing is going to be given to you in this league. You need to go out and earn every win."
D'Angelo Harrison led all scorers with 22 points and Jakarr Sampson finished with 10 points and 9 boards to lead the Red Storm. St. John's got crushed on the boards 48-39 and sent Villanova to the line 40 times. St. John's has another crack at earning its first conference win on Tuesday night at DePaul.