Villanova began postseason play right where it left off.
Kris Jenkins–the 4.7 second man–made a pair of 3-pointers to start the day off with a bang. From then on, the game was a show of Villanova’s tenacity, outclassing eighth-seeded St. John’s, 108-67, in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday afternoon.
“They’ve got experience,” said St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin. “Game experience–they’ve won and lost together.”
The 41-point margin of victory tied the tournament record set in 1999 ,when Syracuse defeated Boston College in the first round, 96-55. The Wildcats’ 108 points also marks a record–the most points scored by a team in a Big East Tournament game.
The first half saw the Wildcats moving the ball quickly and efficiently around the court, making good shots, and cracking down on defense. St John’s made only 12-of-30 (40 percent) in the opening half–an okay shooting performance, but not as bad as its 2-of-8 (25 percent) performance from deep. Villanova, on the other hand, got off to a strong start on both ends of the court and even managed to complete the entire first half without a single foul.
“That was a pretty good effort for us defensively, it really was,” said Wildcats head coach Jay Wright. “And again, that is maturity, it’s experience. The whole team watched the game together last night. If you’re not prepared for that game you’re not really paying attention. I think our guys had a great grasp of the scouting report, and I think they did play really intelligently in the first half.”
Familiarity can do wonders for a team, and it certainly did for Donte DiVincenzo. In the previous two meetings against the Red Storm, DiVincenzo posted impressive 19 and 20 point games, respectively. He saved the best for last on Thursday, leading the team in a career-high 25 point performance.
“The only thing I can say about the 25 is that it’s all because of the seniors, and Jalen [Brunson],” DiVincenzo said. “Everyone was making the right play and I found myself open and today I was knocking down shots.”
Jenkins also had himself a solid game, with 24 points and six assists. In the last three seconds of the first half, he dazzled in a flashback of Apr. 4, 2016.
With three seconds left in the half, Wright called a time out, and decided to test out a play the Wildcats may have to use later in the postseason, one that looked familiar to ‘The Shot’. Moments later, Jenkins had the ball in his hands and shot a buzzer-beating three pointer to bring the Cats up 52-26 at halftime.
“We take advantage of all those opportunities, there’s no better practice than the game,” Wright said of the final first half play call. “You could do that in practice all you want, and it works, it’s nice, but you have to run that against another team, and get that experience. And every experience you get in a game makes you stronger for the next game. I don’t care if everyone knows about it.. I’m more concerned that our players can execute.”
Fellow senior Josh Hart made an impact as well. The recently named Big East Player of the Year chipped in 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“[Josh was] not trying to do to many things, not trying to prove he’s player of the year in his conference,” Wright said. “Just going out there and playing for his teammates, and I thought that was really impressive.”
Mikal Bridges sat out the majority of the game, after being pulled about 90 seconds in due to a stomach virus.
“We don’t want Mikal do go down–or anybody–but you know our guys are ready, and they’ve been put in these situations before,” Jenkins said. “So, they [bench players] just get more minutes. More minutes for [Eric Paschall], more minutes for Donte, for Dylan [Painter].”
The lopsided game allowed for the reserves to gain more experience, and they capitalized. Painter, the 6-10 forward, continued his development as a reliable big man off the bench. He finished the game with a career-high 10 points off of a perfect 3-of-3 shooting performance, led the team with six rebounds, and was actually the player to get Villanova to 100 points with 3:12 left in the game.
“[We] come in and bring energy defensively,” said DiVincenzo, of the bench players’ mentality. “Get as many rebounds as we possibly can, and when there’s so much attention on players as good as Josh, and Kris, you find yourself open.”
The bench players really made an impact this game, in a great way. Paschall, DiVincenzo, and Painter combined to pitch in 52 points this game. The trio also accounted for 16 of the team’s 34 rebounds in the win.
“We always plan to have that,” said Wright. “Donte and Eric Paschall and Dylan Painter have really developed this rotation for us. If they weren’t playing at the level that they are we wouldn’t be able to do it, and it really does give us the ability to stay fresh in tournaments.”
The Wildcats dominated the entire game, and didn’t leave anything to chance. Overall, the game was a success for Villanova, who started the Big East Tournament off on a good note. The ‘Cats will play the winner of Seton Hall-Marquette tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. in the semifinal round.