NEW YORK -- It’s something you usually don’t see from Villanova, but it happened Sunday against St. John’s in front of an electrified sellout crowd of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden.
After taking a 19-point lead in the first 12 minutes of the game Sunday, the 13th-ranked Wildcats missed shots, committed turnovers and failed to get back in transition. Worse yet, they didn’t keep their composure like Jay Wright’s teams usually do.
And even Wright lost his composure, receiving a technical foul that further fueled a 20-5 run by the Red Storm, enabling them to overcome the deficit and gain the confidence necessary to defeat the Wildcats, 71-65, to break a 12-game losing streak over Villanova at the Garden.
Wright had predicted this was not going to be a pretty game, and it wasn’t. The Wildcats (20-6, 11-2 Big East) made just five of 24 shots in the second half and turned the ball over nine times. The Red Storm (18-7, 7-6) scored 21 fast-break points in the final 20 minutes and connected on 7 of 13 three-point attempts.
Another unusual occurrence came from the Cats’ top two scorers. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall combined to shoot 4-of-22 from the floor with one three-pointer between them and finished with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“You know it’s possible,” Wright said. “You’ve got to do other things. That’s always possible. You’re not going to make shots every night. You’ve got to get to the foul line. You’ve got to get stops defensively. You’ve got to get other guys to step up. We’ll learn from this.”
Villanova finished the game shooting 33 percent and attempted 35 of its 54 shots from distance while turning the ball over 16 times.
“We started settling [for threes], and didn’t really force the issue, really didn’t stay physical and aggressive,” Wright said.
The Wildcats led 29-10 with 8:50 to play in the first half, but St. John’s got a boost at the end of the first half when Justin Simon banked in a 75-foot buzzer-beater to cut the lead to 37-26. Even after the Red Storm trimmed the deficit to eight in the early moments of the second half, the visitors appeared to restore some order after building the margin back to 14, 48-34, with 12 minutes, 46 seconds to play.
That’s when it all turned, however.
Shamorie Ponds, the Red Storm’s top scorer who was held to 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting, sank two free throws. St. John’s put on a press, trapped Collin Gillespie, and L.J. Figueroa came out with the ball and raced in for a layup.
Wright called timeout, argued the call, and was assessed the T. Ponds converted the two ensuing free throws.
“They started pressing us, got that turnover at halfcourt on Collin, got the technical and that really got them going,” Wright said. “That was probably the turning point in the game. The tech hurt us.”
With the crowd in a frenzy, the Red Storm went on to hit five of their next seven shots, including a pair of threes each from Figueroa (22 points) and Mustapha Heron (19). Figueroa’s trey with 7:26 to play gave St. John’s a 54-53 lead.
The advantage would change hands only twice more. Booth’s layup with 4:39 remaining gave the Cats their final lead at 57-55, but Figueroa put St. John’s in front for good with another three at the 3:50 mark. The Red Storm scored their last 13 points at the free-throw line in 14 attempts.
Villanova made just one of its last seven shots, a three-pointer by Joe Cremo on its last possession. Cremo led the Cats with 14 points.