St. John’s destroyed by Villanova as NCAA tourney hopes take hit

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If Saturday night was devastating, then Tuesday evening was downright demoralizing for St. John’s.

Losing to Big East punching bag DePaul as 11-point favorites was crushing for the Red Storm’s NCAA Tournament hopes. Being uncompetitive at No. 8 Villanova only 20 days after beating the Wildcats in Queens was just as hard to stomach.

After winning six straight games to get into the tournament mix, St. John’s is headed in the wrong direction as March nears. The Red Storm lost for the third time in four games in an 81-58 blitzing by the Wildcats in Villanova, Pa.

“You’re playing against one of the top teams in the country, you’re playing at their place and you beat them [already], you know they’re going to come out swinging and they did,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said of the Wildcats. “They didn’t make those shots at our place, but they made them at home. Unfortunately for us, we had some of those same shots we had at home, and we didn’t make those shots or make the right decisions.”

The result was decided early. Villanova (15-3, 10-2 Big East) led by 17 points at halftime and by as many as 26 in the second half as the regression continued for St. John’s (14-10, 8-9). Porous defense, poor shot selection and woeful rebounding — early-season issues that led to a 1-5 start in the conference — have returned. Intensity, focus and poise were lacking.

St. John’s made just 3 of 23 attempts from 3-point range and 13 of 21 from the free-throw line, while scoring just seven points off 15 Villanova turnovers. Sophomore star Julian Champagnie missed his first eight shots and was held to 16 points on 5 of 18 shooting. Big East Freshman of the Year front-runner Posh Alexander had his third subpar game in his last four outings, managing just four points and two assists, and suffered a right thumb injury late in the second half. A prognosis wasn’t given after the game.

“We couldn’t make a shot,” Anderson said. “We missed some layups, missed some free throws. A lot of things that could go wrong did go wrong.”

After being handcuffed by Alexander in the first meeting, Villanova star Collin Gillespie has his way with St. John’s, notching 14 points and five assists. He was one of four Wildcats in double figures.

St. John’s certainly didn’t seem over the loss at DePaul, particularly in the first half. Villanova scored 10 of the game’s first 12 points, an ominous sign. The Wildcats had an 11-point lead less than eight minutes in that reached 20 at one point late in the first half.

It didn’t get better after halftime. There were no rallies and little fire. The poor shooting continued.

The one positive is St. John’s now has eight days off before returning to action. The Johnnies can still finish over .500 in the Big East for the first time in six years by beating Providence and Seton Hall at home next week.

“We just got to regroup and get back to playing the winning basketball we were playing [before this stretch],” Anderson said.

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