The Villanova Wildcats (18-6) went wire-to-wire to defeat the Saint John’s Red Storm (13-10) by a final score of 75-69.
Villanova opened the scoring up with less than one minute elapsed in the first half by way of a Justin Moore three pointer. From there, the Wildcats would hold a comfortable lead all the way into the halftime break. Coming out of halftime, the Wildcats seemed to have picked up right where they left off, extending their lead at one point to twenty points with just 4:27 left in regulation. Suddenly, Saint John’s went on a run and cut the Villanova lead in half with only two minutes to play. The Red Storm nearly came all the way back, cutting the deficit down to just three with seconds left on the clock. Unfortunately, the clock struck midnight for the Johnnies cinderella efforts as the Wildcats were able to hold on anchored by their reliable touch at the free throw line.
For Saint John’s this meeting with Villanova will kick off the first of three consecutive games against opponents ranked in the Top-25. The way in which the Red Storm finished this game against a superior opponent tells you all you need to know about Mike Anderson’s team going forward, and will bode well for their upcoming schedule.
Leading the way for the Red Storm was junior-forward Aaron Wheeler who led all scorers on the night with 31 points on 6-10 shooting from deep. Dylan Addae-Wusu was another key contributor, leading both teams in rebounds (11) assists (5) and minutes (36). Playing against a Villanova team in February is hard enough as it is, but without their lockdown defender Posh Alexander (ankle) Saint John’s was at a disadvantage before the game even tipped off. The way the Johnnies battled until the absolute final whistle is commendable, and will go a long way when the committee is looking over their resume for an at-large bid in March.
As for Villanova, this will go down as their fifth win in their last six games, albeit an ugly one. It was apparent early that leaders like Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore were still not fully healthy, so Villanova needed to rely on their depth and size early and often. Ankle injuries seem to be contagious at this point with players such as Bryan Antoine, Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore and Brandon Slater all dealing with the same type of injury. Getting fully healthy before the tournament should be Villanova’s top priority moving forward because we have witnessed what they can be when they are fully healthy.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening for the Wildcats was Collin Gillespie going scoreless in limited action. Although he did not contribute on offense, Gillespie was able to snag a team-leading ten rebounds and make his presence and leadership felt, especially on the defensive end. Eric Dixon and Justin Moore led the way offensively for the Wildcats, each scoring sixteen points, respectively.
What’s Next: Saint John’s will look to kick off Super Bowl Sunday with some fireworks as they take on UConn at home this Sunday at noon. As for Villanova they will also return home to take on a tough Seton Hall team this Saturday at The Finn before shipping up to Rhode Island next Tuesday for what is certainly the most anticipated matchup in Big East conference play this season.