Wildcats Use Late Run To Defeat St John’s, 57-49

Brandon+Slater+scored+14+points+in+the+second+half+to+lead+Villanova+to+the+victory.

Graydon Paul/Villanovan Photography

Brandon Slater scored 14 points in the second half to lead Villanova to the victory.

Brooke Ackerman, Co-Sports Editor

NEW YORK — On Friday, January 20, Villanova headed to “The World’s Most Famous Arena” to take on St. John’s. Taking the floor in front of a packed Madison Square Garden crowd, it was clear that the fans made up for what the players lacked: enthusiasm. 

The commonly used expression “defense is optional” is often true in basketball, but the low scoring 57-49 win for Villanova was quite the opposite. In the matchup, offense appeared optional for both teams. However, the Wildcats closed the game on a 15-3 run to clinch the victory. 

While the win over the Red Storm (13-7, 3-6 Big East) brought the Wildcats back to an .500 record, improving to 10-10 on the season, it was anything but pretty. Villanova finished off shooting 36% from the field, 33% from the three point line, and racked up a total of 16 turnovers. 

“It’s a dogfight every time [we] play (St. John’s),” said head coach Kyle Neptune, crediting the Red Storm for forcing turnovers. “They’re very well coached, they play extremely hard.”

The first half started off slow for both teams, but rather than trading baskets, the Wildcats and Red Storm traded turnovers. 

The teams headed into the locker room at halftime tied at 28, with graduate guard Caleb Daniels leading the team with 11 points. Senior Chris Arcidiacano followed close behind with nine points, going 3-5 from the three point line. 

Heading into the second half, the only tempo that was picked up was the energy coming from the Garden’s split fan sections. 

Villanova started the half with what could only be described as an unfortunate series of events. After redshirt junior Eric Dixon missed a three point jumper, freshman Cam Whitmore followed it up with a missed layup and a turnover. On their third possession of the half, the Wildcats received a shot clock violation. 

With the energy in the Garden high and tensions at the game’s sloppiness growing even higher, Neptune received a technical just over three minutes into the second half.  

The remainder of the half progressed slowly, as the teams traded baskets every so often, keeping the game close and the score even lower. 

With just over seven minutes to go, Villanova trailed by four. However, it was the turnover count that turned more heads than the score itself — every Wildcat who had played over eight minutes had at least one turnover, with Dixon and Whitmore leading the team with four each. 

It wasn’t until the last five minutes of the game that fans saw a glimpse of a passionate Villanova team. 

The Wildcats closed the game on a thrilling 15-3 run, including three steals in the final three minutes. With 21 seconds remaining, a fastbreak slam from graduate forward Brandon Slater caused MSG to erupt and clinched the Villanova victory. 

“I think it was just staying on the attack,” Daniels said, describing the team’s tempo change in the last five minutes. “Just looking for each other a little bit more, things started opening up as we got on the paint a little bit more.” 

While the turnover count was equal to that of leading scorer Daniels’ points for the night, the Wildcats were still able to clinch another Big East win, making them 4-5 in conference play. 

“We all always cherish road wins,” Neptune said, “but any [win] in the Big East is…big time. This conference is a monster.” 

Villanova goes back to work on Saturday, January 29, for a home game against Providence at Wells Fargo Center. The Friars are currently ranked 22nd in the nation, boasting a 6-2 conference record. The game is scheduled to tip off at 12 P.M. on FS1.