Madison Square Garden was packed, and unwilling to divulge who was the home team. Villanova blue matched St. John’s red. Chants of “Let’s go Johnnies” quickly segued into “Air-ball” taunts of Red Storm forward Bashir Ahmed. The short trip up I-95 made it easy to see coming. The quick ride into Penn Station makes it easy to happen again, and again, and again.
What happened on the court was just as competitive. The identities of the nation’s top-ranked team and the Big East’s last-place team weren’t obvious.
St. John’s maintained a stunning lead for an unthinkable amount of time. Villanova was unrecognizable, struggling in every area in which it is usually flawless. In the final minute, the blue had become quiet, and the red was on its feet.
But even at their worst, the Wildcats never lost control. At Villanova’s least impressive, every TV ticker and newspaper box score ended up revealing a result that was expected.
Despite being gifted an awful outing from the country’s best team, St. John’s was unable to pull the massive upset, with Villanova pulling out a 78-71 win over the Red Storm on Saturday night.
St. John’s (10-8, 0-6) has now lost six straight games, and next plays at No. 10 Xavier. Villanova (16-1, 4-1), which is 6-0 at the Garden over the past two seasons, has now won 13 straight games against the Red Storm — eight straight decisions by double-digits — last losing the matchup in Feb. 2011. St. John’s hasn’t defeated Villanova at home in 16 years.
Shamorie Ponds scored a career-high 37 points, but had little help, with none of his teammates scoring in double-figures.
Looking to capture their first win over the No. 1 team in the country since their coach was their star, the Red Storm kept Wooden Award candidates Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges quiet most of the evening, forcing the always-composed Wildcats to look uncomfortable, resulting in repeated head-scratching turnovers.
Villanova didn’t score for the first three minutes of the game, and still trailed late in the first half. The Wildcats, who shoot nearly 52 percent from the field as a team, opened shooting 5-of-21, hitting just 2 of 10 from 3-point range. St. John’s assassin Donte DiVincenzo was even held scoreless, until he scored eight straight points to put Villanova in front, 34-27, at halftime.
Though St. John’s trailed by double-digits early in the second half, the Red Storm fought back against the seemingly inevitable conclusion.
Ponds, who shot 15-of-28, strapped the Red Storm to his shoulders, pulling St. John’s within seven with less than six minutes, sparking chants of “De-Fense,” from the city’s supporters. DiVincenzo (25 points, 7-of-11 shooting) ended the cheers, with one of his six 3-pointers, reviving a chorus of “Let’s go Nova.”
DiVincenzo, a sophomore, who averaged over 21 points in three meetings with the Red Storm last season, matched his career-high in points, which he set against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament.
Ponds cut the deficit to four in the final minute, but St. John’s never got closer.