Nothing epitomizes Big East basketball better than a matchup between Villanova and St. John’s. The 96th meeting between the Wildcats and the Red Storm looked like it was going to be a repeat of last year’s down-to-the-wire win for St. John’s. However, this time the ‘Cats emerged as the victors, sinking 13 straight free-throws in the final three minutes to ice the 82-73 win at Madison Square Garden.
The ’Cats never trailed until the 3:41 mark of the second half, when a Willie Shaw three gave St. John’s a 68-66 lead. ’Nova battled back however, using timely offensive rebounds and free throw shooting to oust St. John’s.
“We hung in there,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I like that. We needed to come out and face some adversity, so I’m very proud of our guys.”
‘Nova earned its first road win of the season and has opened up an impressive 3-0 start in conference play after picking up victories over Providence and Virginia Tech prior to Wednesday night’s win. Their record now stands at 10-5 overall.
The Storm, meanwhile, fall to 8-5 overall with a 1-2 mark in conference. Strong play from several Wildcat players, particularly in the waning moments of the contest, enabled ‘Nova to earn the tough road win.
Freshman Jason Fraser was able to weather the storm of the hostile New York crowd which still hasn’t forgiven him for not choosing to attend St. John’s. Fraser was a force at the end of the game, hauling down important rebounds and sinking timely free throws. Classmate Randy Foye, who was named Big East Rookie of the Week last week, led the team in scoring with 20 points and a perfect six-for-six mark from the charity stripe.
The ’Cats also continued to get solid leadership from captain Ricky Wright. The six-foot-nine forward was a force inside and on the boards, recording yet another double-double, with 19 points and 12 rebounds on seven of 13 shooting from the field.
St. John’s was paced by superstar guard Marcus Hatten, who scored 24 points to go along with nine rebounds and four assists. However, Hatten’s stellar play was not enough to overcome his team’s ineptitude at the free throw line, where they hit just 22 of 40 shots.
The Wildcats also enjoyed their usual advantage on the boards, this time to the tune of a 50-32 margin, an area which Wright has said is the “most consistent part of our game.” Lately, however, the rebounding consistency has seemed to extend to other areas of play.
“I think a lot of guys are starting to feel comfortable late in the game when it’s close,” Ricky Wright said. “We’re starting to gain confidence going 3-0 in the conference.”
The Wildcats will be looking to make it a 4-0 start in the Big East when they face Rutgers and a student section to rival the ’Nova “bleacher creatures” on Saturday night.