‘Nova rebounds from Providence loss, defeats Chris Mullin’s St. John’s

Paul Regan

The number 6 ranked Wildcats defeated St. John’s 68-53 in Sunday afternoon’s contest at Madison Square Garden. Villanova improved to 18-3 (8-1 Big East) on the season, while St. John’s is still looking for its first Big East win under Chris Mullin. Both teams struggled from the field and committed many unforced errors in the mid-season Big East matchup.

Junior guard Josh Hart (16 points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore forward Kris Jenkins (14 points, 11 rebounds) both recorded double-doubles for ’Nova, which was without senior center Daniel Ochefu. Redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges contributed 13 points including a nice “and one” slam to jumpstart a Villanova run in the first half.

For St. John’s, guard Ron Mvouika recorded 11 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists and guard Durand Johnson added 13 points.

In an uncharacteristically sloppy game, Villanova committed 20 turnovers, which is almost double its season average. The offense looked out of synch at times, especially in the first half, and looked shaky against St. John’s press, failing to successfully inbound the ball a couple of times.

 The Wildcats were a bit rusty at the start of the game after a week off since the overtime loss to Providence last weekend. It took close to 7 minutes before ’Nova recorded its first field goal and got some energy on the court.

The shooting struggles continued for the ’Cats as they shot just 36% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc. The trio of Hart, senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, and freshman guard Jalen Brunson combined for just 8 points in the first half.

Rebounding the basketball was a potential issue with Ochefu, the team’s leading rebounder, out with a concussion suffered at practice this week. But Villanova rebounded well as a team and was able to control the glass against the Red Storm, outrebounding St. John’s 48-35.

St. John’s was guilty of poor shooting and not valuing possessions as well, turning the ball over 21 times and shooting just 33% from the field. Although many of those turnovers were errant passes by the young Johnnies, Villanova’s defense was solid throughout the game and pressure was certainly a factor in the Red Storm coughing up the ball. Bridges, in particular, was a defensive spark in the first half with his on-ball pressure.

The second half was much kinder to the Wildcats in terms of shooting the basketball. The team shot 50% (14-28) from the field as shots from the outside started falling and drives were finished at the rim.

The absence of Ochefu was felt on both ends of the floor for Villanova. The ’Cats struggled to get the ball into the post and work the inside out offense as they normally do when Ochefu is on the court. On the other end, the Johnnies were able to score in the paint without Ochefu in the game to protect the rim. The absence showed how important he is to this team and ’Nova will definitely want him back for the upcoming rematch with Providence, if not sooner.

Next up for the Wildcats is a home matchup against Creighton on February 3 at 8 p.m.