By Stephen Lepore
The St. John’s men’s basketball team, ranked nationally for the first time in four years, was leading defending national champion Villanova by five points with 4:07 to play.
Unfortunately, the Johnnies’ incredible run was not to continue, as the Red Storm went without a point for the next three minutes and eventually dropped the game to the Wildcats, 76-71 at Finneran Pavilion in Philadelphia.
For head coach Chris Mullin, the lack of second chances after missed shots was what ultimately doomed the Johnnies.
“I thought we got off to a great start in the first 10-12 minutes and things came easy,” Mullin said, referencing how St. John’s opened up a 14-2 and 20-7 run. “Our giving up of offensive rebounds hurt us more than anything. Offensively, we missed shots and made some mistakes, but when you get a stop, give up an offensive rebound and kick out threes, it’s demoralizing. A game like this wasn’t going to get up in the high numbers and it was really going to come down to defense.”
Villanova responded with a 15-4 run of their own. The back and forth, streaky scoring continued with St. John’s taking a 39-34 advantage into the break.
The Red Storm opened the second half on an 11-5 run and busted out to an 11 point lead, but that finally woke up the champion Wildcats, who proceeded to score 12 unanswered points. While St. John’s was eventually able to reclaim the lead and go up by five, Villanova tightened up the ship defensively and took a lead it would never relinquish during the Red Storm’s late empty spell.
Shamorie Ponds led the way with 23 points and six assists, but he felt unimpressed with how St. John’s let Villanova back in the game.
“They took the lead and I felt like we should’ve taken the lead right back,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been a close game in the first place anyway in my opinion.”For Mullin, after a week in which his team were finally given its due before suffering a real setback, it’s all about getting back on the horse in time for the Johnnies’ next game against DePaul on Saturday at Carnesecca Arena.
“We’ve played a lot of close games and we’re fine,” he said. “We’re going to take a day off tomorrow and get ready. We’re going to look at our film to see what we can do better, but the game’s over, time to move on. We play them again in New York.”