Villanova hands struggling St. John’s third straight loss

By Joseph Staszewski

The core of the Red Storm men’s basketball team continues to play inspired, passionate and gutsy basketball. Even with all of that, they haven’t been able to overcome the team’s lack of depth, size and a viable third scoring option.

No. 24-ranked St. John’s hung tough with No. 8 Villanova before seeing the game get away with forwards Chris Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer out of the game because of injury and foul trouble. The 90-72 loss at Madison Square Garden Tuesday drops St. John’s to 0-3 in the Big East a year after it started 0-5. Things need to turn around quick.

“You don’t want to be so far in the rear view mirror that those games when the schedule comes your way aren’t meaningful,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “That’s that challenge we have.”

The Johnnies (11-3) led Villanova (14-1, 2-1) at halftime 35-34 and 54-52 midway through the second half before the wheels came off. Obekpa picked up is fourth foul with 11:52 to go in the game. Pointer fouled out with 7:47 remaining and Villanova up just 66-59. He hit Josh Hart on a fast break just over a minute after getting his fourth foul. Pointer took the blame for the ill-advised play.

“That was a bad foul on me,” he said. “I have to let that go.”

With him out of the game and Obekpa limited by an ankle injury, it further exploited the Red Storm’s lack of size. Villanova went on an 8-0 run to seize control of the game and 6-foot-11 forward Daniel Ochefu (13 points, 13 rebounds) dominated the game’s closing minute.

“I think it makes a big difference,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Obekpa and Pointer’s presence on the court. “I think that is why the score got to what it was.”

D’Angelo Harrison, playing with the heart and determination you expect from your star senior, led St. John’s with 25 points. Harrison scored 16 of those points in the first half before injuring his knee delivering a hard foul in the closing seconds before the break. Harrison also got a bloody lip after being elbowed in the mouth in the second half.

“I didn’t use it as an excuse,” Harrison said of his knee. “I was just playing to win the game. I’ll be alright.”

Phil Green IV scored 11 of his 14 points before halftime and Pointer and Jamal Branch added nine points apiece. Rysheed Jordan, who missed the loss to Butler because of a leave of absence that included the death of his grandmother, scored just two points.

“It’s tough to step into this level of competition against a quality team like Villanova when you had such a disjoined week as he clearly experienced,” said Lavin.

Villanova had four players in double figures and pounded St. John’s on the glass 41-21. Darrun Hillard led the way for the Wildcats with 21 points and Dylan Ennis chipped in 15.

St. John’s has eight days to regroup before games on the road against Providence and DePaul. It doesn’t want to continue to dig a hole and hinder its chances to reach the NCAA tournament after an 11-1 start in non-conference play.

“We are plating great teams giving use their best shot,” Harrison said. We have to fight back and find a way to win.”

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