By Laura Amato
It felt like whiplash.
Less than 15 hours after the St. John’s men’s basketball team took down ninth-seeded Georgetown to open the Big East Tournament, the Red Storm’s season came to a screeching halt at the hands of reigning national champion Villanova.
St. John’s struggled from every angle in the quarterfinal matchup March 9, falling 108-67 as the Wildcats set the tone from the opening tip.
“Quick turnaround, but that had nothing to do with it,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “Villanova is one of the best teams in the country. And we welcome that. That was a good position to be in, to be able to play in today’s game. So no regrets.”
It was, of course, a quick return to the court for No. 8 St. John’s – which defeated Georgetown 74-73 the night before – but the Red Storm refused to make excuses, certain the squad would come out with an extra jump in its step after the final-second victory over the Hoyas.
That was easier said than done.
Villanova shot a blistering 63.2 percent for the game, going 15-of-29 from long distance. St. John’s, meanwhile, was held to just nine shots from behind the arc, was out-rebounded 34-20 and turned the ball over 14 times.
The Red Storm (14-19) didn’t take a single foul shot in the opening 20 minutes as Villanova played the entire first half without being whistled for a foul.
And when Kris Jenkins drained a step-back, buzzer-beater trey just seconds before halftime – reminiscent of his game-winning shot in the National Championship last year – it was difficult for St. John’s to feel confident about anything.
“It was tough. They had some time to prepare,” said freshman Shamorie Ponds. “We just came off a game less than 12 hours ago. It’s tough against Villanova, they are a good team.”
St. John’s did its best to hang around in the second half, but it was far too little, far too late.
The Red Storm’s offense never hit its stride – Ponds and backcourt-mate Marcus LoVett were held to just 21 combined points – and its defense simply didn’t have an answer for anyone in a Villanova uniform. Jenkins finished with 24 points, while Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart chipped in 15 and Donte DiVincenzo notched another career day against the Red Storm, racking up a game-high 25 points.
“I think defensively we need to improve,” Mullin said. “I do think a lot of that will come with strength and maturity. I think a lot of people, me included, players improve a lot in the offseason. That’s the best time to do it.”
It’s a tough loss for St. John’s, but a clear turnaround from last year’s finish. The Red Storm won their first Big East Tournament game since 2011 and improved on last season’s one-win conference record with seven victories in league play.
The future is bright for the Red Storm, but after that final whistle sounded, the still squad couldn’t quite mask its disappointment, going from high to low in just a few hours.
“For this group of kids to get the first tournament win in five or six years, whatever it was, but also to prove to themselves and to get on that big stage [that’s big],” Mullin said. “So I thought [Wednesday] was probably something they’ll remember and take into the offseason and use it as a positive.”