PHILADELPHIA, PA. 2/7/2018 – This was always one of the storied rivalries in eastern college basketball. It is a bit different now, The Villanova Wildcats are the top ranked team in the nation. The St. John’s Red Storm broke an 11-game losing streak beating #4 Duke at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. What it was is, and what it can be again showed as St. John’s takes a 79 – 75 win over #1 Villanova at the Center.
“To me it’s a rivalry and it always will be,” said St. John’s Coach Chris Mullin. “There’s a tremendous respect and fight between some of the guys I played with and a lot of the Villanova guys and I’ve shared some of those stories onto these guys. I remember all of the games that we lost; you don’t really remember the ones you win. But you learn from them and these guys are going through the same thing.”
The Red Storm led most of the way, and had a 67 – 58 lead with with 2:39 to play on a Shamorie Ponds jumper, two of his team-high 26 points. That would be the last basket for St. John’s as Villanova began a furious rally keyed by Jalen Brunson. Twice the lead would shrink to a point. A Brunson three-point play made it 67 – 66 with 1:25 to play. He had 8 straight Wildcat points, feeling a sense of urgency.
“There definitely was a sense of urgency as time went down,” said Brunson. “It was desperation time trying to find ways to steal the ball away and in the end, they just executed one more play better than we did. If we had just thirty more seconds, we possibly could have gotten the job done.”
Brunson added five more for the Cats, but St. John’s was staying in front by converting free throws to lead by 4 with 36.9 to play.
Villanova freshman guard Colin Gillespie would cut it to one again with a three-pointer at the 23 second mark off an offensive rebound by fellow freshman forward Jermaine Samuels. How gutsy play for a first year players?
“Really gutsy,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “I was impressed that Jermaine Samuels got the offensive rebound and kicked it out to him. Collin is a gutsy kid. It didn’t surprise anyone on our team.”
The Red Storm converted five more free throws to close out the game. In the last 2:24 of the game Brunson scored 14 of the last 17 Villanova points.
St. John’s gives up 11 three-pointers on average. It appeared to be an advantage for Villanova, but they converted 8 of 33 for the game (24.2%), and just 2 of 18 in the second half.
St. John’s stops the Nova winning streak at 13 games in this series. The last time the Red Storm defeated the top-ranked team in the nation was in 1985 against Louisville. And they now add a record of beating top 5 opponents in back-to-back games.
The Wildcats played a bit short-handed as forward Eric Paschall missed the game being in concussion protocol. Omari Spellman registered a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Gillespie had 12 points all from beyond the arc. Donte DiVincenzio and Mikal Bridges both had 11 points.
Justin Simon added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Red Storm.
Villanova (22 – 1, 9 – 2) has a short turn around as they will face nationally ranked Butler on Saturday which ends a four-game home stand. Time to start a new streak for Nova and have a lesson learned from this game.
“We came ready to play,” Wright said. “They had a game plan and we had a game plan. They executed theirs better than we did.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian