It was a rumble in the concrete jungle. The Mecca of Basketball was lively, not for its NBA hometown team, but rather the St. John’s Red Storm. It was only fitting that the historic basketball arena held a classic Big East game between two teams whose basketball history runs deep. Tonight’s game embodied the toughness, the gritty games that are a part of Big East tradition.
Speaking of history, coach Jay Wright was going for his 300th win at Villanova. St. John’s wasn’t going to make it easy.
At the end of the Butler game, it was evident that St. John’s was frustrated with losing for the second time in a row. They couldn’t wait to play Villanova and redeem themselves. St. John’s got off to a quick start. Phil Greene IV and D’Angelo Harrison got the Red Storm going with back-to-back three pointers. It was foreshadowing of what was to come, as they took over the scoring duties for St. John’s. On the other hand, Villanova’s Dylan Ennis woke up from his slumber. The redshirt junior had been cold as of late, but it didn’t take him long to heat up. He was responsible for 10 of Villanova’s first 16 points of the game. During this stretch, Ennis scored eight and dished out an assist. Villanova wasn’t going to get off to a slow start, nor could they afford one. Both teams were neck and neck. Neither team had a lead that was greater than two possessions, it came down to who wanted it more. Unlike some of the other close games that Villanova had experienced this season, both teams were knocking down their shots. The first team that fell behind was bound to be knocked out.
Villanova got the job done using their familiar game plan, sharing the ball and finding the open man. Spectators’ eyes were just as fooled as the Red Storm defense was. One moment the ball handler is driving inside, the next moment, the ball flies outwards to the open man in the perimeter. By the time the defense realized their mistakes, more often than not, it was too late.
St. John’s took a more direct approach, get it to D’Angelo Harrison and let him work his magic. Their defense was anchored by Chris Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer. The front court duo combined for seven blocks and did not make it easy for Villanova inside. Their physical play set the tone for the game, leading the Wildcats to toughen up as well. Villanova faced a replica of their own defense, a combination of man coverage and a series of presses. Each basket was hard-earned and fought for, although both teams made it look easy.
Just before the half, D’Angelo Harrison came crashing down into the stanchion as he rushed to defend Ryan Arcidiacono on a fast break. Arcidiacono was fouled on the play and Harrison went to the locker room. He writhed in pain on the floor, grabbing his right knee. He exited the game with a knee contusion, but would return to the game after the break. Arcidiacono sank both free throws with 0.9 seconds left, cutting into St. John’s lead. Villanova was merely a point behind, trailing 35-34 into the intermission.
Chris Obekpa sank the first basket of the second half, before Villanova’s senior leadership took over. JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard sparked an 8-0 run to give Villanova the lead. However, St. John’s wasn’t going to fold. They came fighting right back, trying to answer and one-up the Wildcats in every way. They sank three pointers, made nice dribble drives, had powerful dunks, and even a sweet alley-oop by Pointer that got Madison Square Garden rocking. It also gave St. John’s a one-point lead with 14:33 left in the game. Despite this, Villanova kept it cool, not caring for all the theatrics. They fought right back and kept up with St. John’s, until they couldn’t go anymore.
A dunk by freshman Phil Booth returned the lead to the Wildcats with 11:10 remaining. Hilliard then came and added seven straight points for the Wildcats, giving them a 63-56 lead with 9:29 left. The game became more physical and chippy, as St. John’s grew frustrated. The game was slowly slipping away from them. Villanova kept St. John’s at bay, maintaining their seven, eight point lead thanks to the post play of Daniel Ochefu. The junior center had another great performance on both ends of the court. He grabbed boards and sank baskets in traffic – two or three defenders in the post was not enough to stop him. It didn’t help St. John’s that their players were getting in foul trouble. Chris Obekpa and Jamal Branch had four fouls apiece and Sir’Dominic Pointer fouled out with 7:47 left in the game.
With St. John’s foul troubles hurting their defense as opposed to their offense, Villanova took advantage. An Ochefu layup with 6:06 remaining in the game gave the Wildcats their first double digit lead of the game. The Wildcats were now leading 72-61, prompting Steve Lavin to call time out. The Red Storm’s lack of depth outside of their six man rotation was exposed. They did not have the manpower to keep up with the multifaceted Wildcats. Villanova continued to roll on offense behind Darrun Hilliard and Daniel Ochefu. They outscored the Red Storm 18-8 the rest of the way, until a garbage time St. John’s three pointer supplied the last few points of the game. The final score was 90-72.
Darrun Hilliard had a team-high 21 points. Dylan Ennis chipped in 15 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Daniel Ochefu had another double-double, with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Ryan Arcidiacono almost had a double-double of his own. He finished the game with nine points and ten assists, with no turnovers.
For St. John’s, D’Angelo Harrison had a game-high 25 points with four rebounds. Phil Greene IV added 14 points and three rebounds. Rysheed Jordan played in his first game since taking a mysterious leave of absence. The details surrounding it aren’t clear, but the sixth man was missed by the team. However, Jordan was kept in check. He logged two points from free throws, going 0-for-6 on the floor in 26 minutes of play time.
The Wildcats improve to 14-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play. They will come back home for a game on Saturday, January 10, with the DePaul Blue Demons. Tip-off is at 4 p.m.