New York, NY – Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, St. John’s, (13-7, 5-4) in convincing fashion, completed their first season sweep of Villanova (11-8, 4-4) in 31 years. Johnnie’s center Joel Soriano returned to form leading all scorers with 21 points, en route to a 70-50 victory. Villanova’s leading scorers were seniors Eric Dixon with 16 points, and TJ Bamba with 12 points.
St. John’s conceded the first several baskets, but responded quickly to reclaim the lead the rest of the night. The Red Storm outplayed Villanova across most facets of the game, leaving no doubt about the outcome. They stifled the Wildcats for their lowest scoring total of the year, holding them to 4-of-25 from 3, and 37% from the field. Their elite defensive pressure forced Villanova to expend a lot of energy getting into their half-court sets, as a result scoring 18 points off 11 turnovers.
Offensively this wasn’t one of the best performances from their usual suspects, Daniss Jenkins and RJ Luis Jr. They combined to shoot 6-of-21, with Coach Pitino visibly upset at RJ’s shot selection. It wouldn’t make a difference, as Soriano and the bench would provide plenty of buckets. Soriano had his first 20-point outing since going to Villanova earlier this month. His height and heart has been too much for the 6’8 Dixon to handle, as he closed the game with 15 of his 21 points in the second half. Soriano was hot from mid-range, and Jenkins helped free him up for some easy chances at the rim. After shooting 46% from the field during their 3-game skid, Soriano only missed one field goal the entire night going 8-of-9.Jordan Dingle and Glenn Taylor Jr. were the main scoring contributors off the bench. Dingle went 6-of-8 inside the arc for 12 points and Taylor Jr. pitched in another 9 points as the two combined for 21 of the 26 bench points. Dingle missed the last 2 games due to illness, and his absence was felt in a big way. He’d go on to post four assists and four rebounds as well in his first return to game action.
St. John’s is one of the nation’s best rebounding teams and dominated the glass Wednesday like most nights. Villanova was outrebounded 42-23, limited to few second chance points. St. John’s feasted on the offensive glass too, grabbing nearly as many offensive rebounds (15) as Nova had defensive rebounds (18). Those 15 offensive boards led to 17 second chance points for the Johnnies. Soriano had a game-high nine total rebounds, and the Johnnies had six players total at least four boards.
Villanova despite all the struggles, they only had a 32-22 halftime deficit. Bamba and Dixon willed their team back into the game with 13 of Nova’s 15 points in the second half to cut the lead down to five points with 12 minutes to go. Pitino called for a 30 second timeout, and St. John’s would finish the game on a 30-15 run. Villanova failed to close that gap with continued inefficient shooting, and lack of a presence on the glass. Outside of Bamba and Dixon, no other player shot above 33% from the field. Dixon had eight of their 23 rebounds. Mark Armstrong had three turnovers and was -17 in his 25 minutes as the lead guard for the Wildcats.
Villanova is reeling right now losing their 3rd straight and 4-of-5 games, after winning their first three games in conference play. It feels like things are snowballing for them, and questions still remain if Kyle Neptune is the right guy to follow the legacy Jay Wright left behind, as he now has a 44-41 record in his coaching career. They are now 6th in the Big East and sinking heading into a must-win matchup on the road against Butler on Saturday the 27th.
St. John’s were losers of three straight heading into this game, most recently dropping a nail-biter to #17 Marquette by a mere point in this same venue. This was a crucial game they needed to have if they want to play in the tournament this year. The entire team fully bought in to Coach Rick Pitino’s keys to victory, defense and rebounding. It was a collective effort and was one of their most cohesive games played as a team. Next up for St. John’s is a January 31st road matchup against Xavier (10-9, 4-4).