First-half surge sends Wildcats past St. John’s 73-62

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — A 19-2 surge late in the first period lifted the No. 14/14 Villanova to a 73-62 win over St. John’s on Saturday at Finneran Pavilion. The Wildcats rocked a slow offensive start to catch fire in the final 10 minutes to establish a double-digit margin which they maintained for most of the final 20 minutes.

by Collin Gillespie 17 points paced Nova who also earned 15 points each from Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon. St. John’s was led in scoring by Montez Mathis (14 points).

The Wildcats (16-5 overall, 9-2 BIG EAST) held the Red Storm (11-8 overall, 3-5 BIG EAST) in check, limiting St. John’s .397 shots on the day since the pitch, including 4- of -21 from deep (.190).

“They’re a really tough team to play,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “(Coach) Mike (Anderson) is doing a great job creating that style – I don’t know if they’re still calling it 40 minutes from hell. They just don’t stop. They’re aggressive, they’re It’s a tough game to play.

“I was proud of our lads. It was a good Big East win. After surviving a game like that, all you can think about is you have to go back to their house in a few weeks. .”

After Collin Gillespie opened the scoring with a two-point jump, St. John’s had seven straight points to take a 7-2 lead. The Wildcats missed their shot on eight straight field goal attempts before a Jordan Longino 3 points broke the skid. Eric Dixon followed by a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 10 as the clock dipped below 12 minutes in the first half.

“I thought our defensive conversion was really important, especially in that streak where we struggled offensively,” Wright said. “We’ve done a great job in that period of coming back and making great plays. One of them was Collin on a contested shot.”

The Wildcats edged the Red Storm 20-17 in the eighth minute when justin-moore dropped in a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired. Vilanova extended that advantage to 27-19 with a 7-0 flurry capped by a fine run for the basket by Caleb Daniels.

A pair of forced turnovers led to 3-pointers by Moore and Daniels to extend the flurry to 13-0 and the lead to 33-19 with 2:50 left in the first period. Another 3-pointer – Gillespie’s made it a 16-0 push – before a field goal and free throw from Julian Champagnie ended the outburst.

“Moving the ball and making extra passes was important for us in this part of the game,” Wright noted. “It’s easy to say that as a coach, but when you have guys inside you, kicking the ball, it’s hard to hold your head up and see your teammates. We had a period there where we made extra passes and found open shots. The rest of the game we weren’t. The pressure was getting to us.”

At halftime, Villanova held a 40-26 lead over the Red Storm. Part of that success was due to a 9-of-12 effort from beyond the 3-point arc in the period, with five different players accounting for at least one.

Daniels led the Wildcats with 10 points in the first half while Gillespie added eight.

Red Storm’s work on the offensive boards – he grabbed his 12and of the day four minutes into the second half – helped him cut Villanova’s lead to 45-34 with 13:34 left in the second half. But timely 3-pointers from Gillespie and free throws from Dixon helped the Wildcats extend their lead to 64-44.

A big advantage for Villanova was caution with basketball. He committed 11 in the day against St. John’s and its teeming pressure.

“You’re looking at 11 assists and 11 turnovers and it’s really not that good against most teams,” Wright said. “But against them it’s not bad. You’ve seen it – every time we turned it over they were knocked out and they’re gone. They’re great and it’s hard to do. They run hard, they drop the ball.

“For us, taking care of the ball was really important.”

St. John’s stormed 13-2 before a Gillespie drive for two ended the run with 1:43 left in the second half. His free throw made a 69-57 margin and the Wildcats went on to win 73-62.

Villanova played without a reserve goalkeeper Brian Antoinewho sprained his left ankle in Tuesday night’s win over DePaul.

The Wildcats’ next opponent is Marquette. The Wildcats and Golden Eagles are scheduled to meet Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee (FS1 and the Villanova IHeart Radio Network). Marquette edged Nova 57-54 in a match that ended at Finneran Pavilion on January 19.

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