By Anthony Bosco
The St. John’s Red Storm blew a chance to all but lock up a berth into the NCAA Tournament Sunday when the team fell to the University of Villanova Wildcats, 77-62, in the final Big East Conference game for both teams.
The loss came on the heels of a spirited 84-81 win for the Johnnies over Notre Dame Feb. 27. But the team could not keep the momentum going when it visited The Pavilion this weekend.
“I don’t know if we blew it, but we have to win Wednesday if we want to go to the NCAAs,” said senior Sharif Fordham, out of Far Rockaway.
Marcus Hatten, who leads the Big East in scoring, was held to just 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting, as the Wildcats went all out to stop the junior college transfer out of Baltimore out of Tallahassee Community College. Andrew Sullivan, a 6-foot-7 forward, shadowed the 6-foot-1 Hatten wherever he went and was helped by double-teams nearly every time Hatten came close to the ball.
But Hatten’s inability to shake free of the Villanova defense was just one of the problems St. John’s faced against the Wildcats, who seemed to simply want the game more, specifically in the second half.
“We pressed on offense and were patient on defense,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis. “We got it backward today.”
The Red Storm (19-10, 9-7) started the game with a short jumper by Hatten and quickly took a 7-4 lead following back-to-back baskets by Donald Emanuel, the second from three-point range.
The two teams exchanged blows until 12:52, when Gary Buchanan hit from beyond the arc to give the Wildcats (16-11, 7-9) a 14-13 lead.
The game remained close throughout the first half, but St. John’s could not draw even again, despite some spirited play Anthony Glover, Eric King and Kyle Cuffe. Ricky Wright, Derrick Snowden, Chris Charles and Buchanan carried ‘Nova to a 32-28 lead at the break.
The Red Storm tried to mount a charge in the second half, going on an 8-2 run behind Glover and walk-on Andre Stanley to tie the game at 42 with 14:37 remaining. But no sooner did the Red Storm pull even than did they fall apart.
A 9-2 spurt by the Wildcats, led by Andrew Sullivan’s two baskets, gave Villanova a 51-44 lead, its largest of the game. The Red Storm got it back to five on a dunk by Hatten at 7:18, but that would be as close as St. John’s would come the rest of the way.
Ever so slowly Villanova simply began to pull away. Missed opportunities by the Red Storm, coupled with the stingy defense and consistent offense of the Wildcats, led to an easy win down the stretch for Villanova.
Glover led St. John’s with 15 points and eight rebounds, continuing his late-season surge. Hatten had 13 points and a game-high eight turnovers in perhaps his least impressive performance to date. Emanuel added nine points, but the Red Storm’s starting center failed to pull a single rebound.
Wright led all scorers with 19 points and had 10 rebounds. Snowden had 14 points and six assists, followed by 11 from Buchanan and 10 from Brooks Sales.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.