Storm stuffed: Early shooting miscues doom St. John’s at ‘Nova

By Laura Amato

Seven minutes and 26 seconds.

That’s how long it took the St. John’s men’s basketball to put the ball in the hoop against No. 4 Villanova Saturday. The offensive drought sank the Red Storm ship before it even really started to set sail.

St. John’s dropped a disappointing 92-79 game to the Wildcats, a lopsided showing that saw the Red Storm struggle from the opening tip. It was the 11th consecutive time Villanova won the Big East matchup.

“They kicked our butt in the first [half],” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said. “We got some good looks and didn’t make them. I thought we hung in there. The offense struggled a little bit tonight, which isn’t usually the case, but it happens.”

It was another confusing performance for the Red Storm, who were fresh off a dominant victory over Marquette Feb. 1 when they notched their first victory at Madison Square Garden since December 2015.

St. John’s (11-14, 5-7) shot just 32.4 percent in the first half – misfiring on its first 12 attempts – and finished just 43.3 percent from the floor as early foul-trouble plagued the squad’s starting lineup.

Freshman phenom Shamorie Ponds was forced to the bench after a pair of quick fouls and forward Bashir Ahmed was limited throughout the opening 20 minutes with his own foul trouble.

“We have to give Villanova credit,” Ahmed said. “They came out and were locked in. They played really good defense. We were just off. We were taking tough shots.”

St. John’s did rally a bit in the second half, scoring the first seven points out of the break. The Red Storm would claw back to make it a nine-point game, but that was as close as the squad could get.

Villanova (22-2, 9-2) answered with a 15-4 run and pushed the lead back to 20 points midway through the second half, effectively silencing any sort of Red Storm rally.

“We got it together and made a nice run,” Mullin said. “We finished the game playing the right way, playing together. I always talk about playing 40 minutes and no matter what’s going on around you, you compete. When you do that every day, then you’re going to win your share of games.”

If there was a bright spot in the lopsided loss it came in the form of Marcus LoVett. The redshirt freshman – who came off the bench – finished with 23 points, six assists and four steals.

Ahmed chipped in 15 points before fouling out and Ponds added 15 points as well, but most came in the waning minutes of the matchup, long after Villanova secured the victory.

The Wildcats dominated from every angle by the final whistle, shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and out-rebounding St. John’s 40-26.

It’s another up and down performance for the Storm, but St. John’s – a team which won just one Big East game last year – is still confident heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

“I look at it as another learning experience,” Mullin said. “We played good segments of the game. We probably won’t take too much away from this actually. We have a week off so we’ll probably move on.”

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