The first matchup of ranked Big East Conference foes at Madison Square Garden started off with the electricity one would have expected in 1985 when both of these BEC stalwart programs made the Final Four. It was hard to tell whether the No. 8 Villanova Wildcats, fresh off their first loss of the year, or the No. 24 St. John's Red Storm, losers of their first two BEC games, wanted the win more.
The Johnnies ran out early but the 'Cats caught up quickly for a two point lead at the first media timeout. Some bad ball possession by Villanova allowed the Red Storm to get to a one point lead at the second media time out. The second half ended with a score of 35-34 with the Red Storm leading but with St. John's fans holding their breaths after their star D'Angelo Harrison headed to the locker room early with a knee injury.
Harrison dropped 16 for the Johnnies and Dylan Ennis volume-shot his way to 10 for the 'Cats. Daniel Ochefu had five points and eight boards.
The second half opened with some quick offense and the return of D'Angelo Harrison, diagnosed with a knee contusion. The teams traded blows, and the lead on multiple occasions, until Villanova gutted it out to a seven point lead with 10 minutes to go thanks to Darrun Hilliard who contributed the last five himself.
Villanova pulled away over the last 10 and Villanova held a 16 point lead with 2:00 to play. The Blue and White then cruised to a 90-72 victory. The Wildcats were led by Darrun Hilliard with 21 points, Dylan Ennis with 15 points and 9 rebounds and Daniel Ochefu with 13 points and 13 boards. D'Angelo Harrison led the Red Storm with 25 points.
Here are three things we learned from this matchup:
1. Big East intensity is back
These two teams left it all on the court. Both teams seemed to be in a the one to push the other team off the ball. These teams attacked the rim and did everything they could to thwart the other's attempt to do the same. This ended up being a factor as Villanova maintained the intensity for 40 minutes as opposed to the valiant but disappointing 30 minutes from St. John's. There is little more to say than the Johnnies are paying for their limited depth against noticeably deeper Big East squads.
2. Making Shots + Depth = Success
We learned that when Villanova is making shots they are one of the nation's toughest teams to beat. But St. John's willed their way to 48.3 percent through hard nosed determination to hang with the 'Cats through 30 minutes. But over the next 10 minutes the No. 8 Wildcats showed why they stayed in the Top 10 after losing by six at then unranked Seton Hall. The Wildcats, still fresh thanks to a talented 8 man rotation, jumped all over their weary foe. They made the Johnnies pay for their short bench after Sir'Dominic Pointer fouled out with 6 to go. The Wildcats had four players in double figures with Josh Hart chipping in 10 amd Phil Booth stepping up in a 9 point, 3 rebound, 2 assist performance in his third Big East game.
3. Daniel Ochefu is for real
Two straight double-doubles have announced Daniel Ochefu's contention to be one of the best bigs in the Big East Conference. He battled the talented Chris Obekpa all night en route to 13 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists. After getting consecutive buckets underneath in the second, the exhausted Johnnies started over-collapsing leaving room for the perimeter players to make some open shots.
D'Angelo Harrison is the undisputed star of the Johnnies and gave them another spectacular effort.
Villanova improves to 14-1 and 2-1 in the Big East.
St. John's drops their 3rd straight and falls to 11-4 and 0-3 in the Big East.