Men’s Basketball Holds Off Late Comeback Push to Beat St. John’s, 75-69


(John Munson/Associated Press)

Justin Moore (above) had a team-high-tying 16 points.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

No. 15 Villanova escaped a late comeback effort from St. John’s Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, coming away with a 75-69 victory. 

The Wildcats had five players in double figures on the night, with redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon and junior guard Justin Moore leading all Wildcat scorers with 16 each. Graduate guard Collin Gillespie was held scoreless but pulled down 10 rebounds. St. John’s graduate forward Aaron Wheeler had a game-high 31 points, shooting 6-for-10 from downtown.

Both Gillespie and Moore were game-time decisions, and both were limited in their effectiveness, combining to shoot 4-15 from the floor. The Red Storm were also not at full strength, as sophomore guard Posh Alexander sat out the game after sustaining an ankle injury against Butler. Junior forward Julien Champagnie also took a hard fall in the first half of the matchup, and was not playing at 100% through the second half against the Wildcats.

“No doubt Posh is a big part of their team,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “He’s so unique that they’re a totally different team without him, which hurts them some, but also you don’t know how to play them.”

Both teams got off to slow starts without the full efficacy of their offensive leaders. The Red Storm missed 10 layups in the first half, and in a six minute stretch, St. John’s made just one shot from the field. However, the Wildcats were never able to build a lead larger than nine during that time. Dixon stepped up to lead the offense, scoring 12 of his points in the first half. 

“(Dixon’s) just playing great basketball, playing smart basketball, he’s defending, rebounding, scoring, and he knows our scouting reports as well as anybody,” Wright said. “He’s developed into a hell of a player, and he’s just scratching the surface. I’m really proud of him.”

The ‘Cats took a 34-28 lead into halftime, despite the Red Storm shooting just under 30% from the field. This likely had to do with the Wildcats struggles from beyond the arc, as the team shot 20% from three-point range in the opening frame.

The Wildcats started to heat up as the second half opened, going on a 13-0 run with the lead eventually blooming to as many as 20 with just four minutes left to play. The Red Storm came charging back behind Wheeler’s explosive offense, with 10 of his points coming in the final two minutes, cutting what was an 11 point lead all the way down to three with 35 seconds left. 

“Wheeler was incredible tonight, just incredible,” Wright said. “We didn’t have any answers for him. He was great.”

The Red Storm had a chance to tie up the ballgame after a steal set them up with what could have been the final possession of regulation, but graduate guard Tareq Coburn missed a three-pointer with 13 seconds remaining, and the Wildcats were able to seal the game. 

The win moves the Wildcats to 18-6 on the year and 11-3 in Big East play, still a half game behind league leaders Providence. The Wildcats are back in action at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, taking on Seton Hall at 1:00 P.M.