Villanova overcomes upset bid by St. John's

Villanova St Johns Basketball
Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, left, drives past St. John’s Shamorie Ponds.

NEW YORK – It’s safe to say that all the players on Villanova understand, appreciate and value the benefits of strong defense.

Considering the Wildcats were averaging close to 90 points a game and ranked No.1 in the nation, it’s not hard to understand how some of them could have been a little less concerned about how they weren’t locking down their opponents’ offense.

A double-digit victory, even though you surrendered 70 or more points, is still a double-digit win.

In the end, Villanova beating St. John’s, 78-71, on Saturday at Madison Square Garden only tells the story of the final 24 minutes of the game.

Red-shirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo burned the Johnnies again by draining a career-high six three-pointers and matching his career-high with 25 points as Nova beat St. John’s for the 13th consecutive time. DiVincenzo had set those previous highs against St. John’s last season.

Still, the real story of the Wildcats (16-1, 4-1 in the Big East) defeating St. John’s (10-8, 0-6) was the first 16 minutes when Villanova’s high-powered offense was as out of whack as it has been all season.

Villanova wasn’t making shots and was committing turnovers. There was little flow, and the ‘Cats, who came in averaging 96.2 points in Big East play, had scored just 21.

The problem for the Red Storm is that it had only scored 22.

When a team is bidding for its first win over a No.1-ranked team since 1985, it has to take advantage of the moments in a game when the opponent is playing out of character.

Villanova simply would not let St. John’s do that.

Despite their difficulty putting the ball in the basket, the Wildcats made sure that the Red Storm would have the same issue.

St. John’s struggled against Villanova’s defense, shooting barely 40 percent, committing turnovers and being outrebounded.

During Nova’s struggles, the Johnnies never established a lead of more than four points.

That failure to capitalize decided the game.

Villanova never completely found its offensive flow, but DiVincenzo scored eight points in the final four minutes of the half to lead the ‘Cats to a seven-point halftime advantage.

St. John’s does not have the offensive acumen to fight all the way back from a decent deficit to a team the quality of Villanova.

Shamorie Ponds scored a career-high 37 points, but no other Johnnie scored double-digits, and the Red Storm shot just 43.8 percent.

That’s not going to beat the Wildcats, even when they have a difficult night on offense.