It's not like it couldn't happen.
St. John's actually led by as much as 11 points at the 8:08 mark of the first half.
However, the Johnnies (12-7, 2-5 BIG EAST) went stagnant in the second half, allowing No. 4/4 Villanova to blow open gaps in the defense and cruise to an 81-71 victory.
"We missed a couple of shots, they made a couple of shots. The other thing is that we are playing against a very good basketball team," said head coach Norm Roberts. "We executed. We played hard. We did turn it over at some bad times..."
The Wildcats' guard play (18-1, 7-0) ignited the gunpowder late in the first half to bring the team back within one point but, the Pennsylvania backcourt exploded in the second half.
St. John's led 'Nova for the last time at the 14:50 mark of the second half on a dribble step-back pull-up by freshman swingman Omari Lawrence. Lawrence, who finished with a career-high eight points, gave the Johnnies a 49-48 lift.
Villanova took over the game from there and surged on a 12-0 run to cap it at 60-49. The run was sparked by freshman guard Maalik Wayns but, it was maintained by senior guard Scottie Reynolds.
Reynolds led all scorers with 19 points. Wayns scored ten of his final 16 points in the second half, alone.
Junior forward Sean Evans brought the game within six points, 63-57, on a putback with 6:55 remaining in the second half. However, the Wildcats continued with its press to get stops and capitalized on the opportunities.
A basket by junior guard Corey Fisher (18 points) around the 2:46 mark of the second stanza put 'Nova up by as much as 14 points, 71-54. Trailing by so much, the Johnnies attempted to efficiently use their time to inch back in the contest. However, it was too little, too late for St. John's.
"We had some opportunities and we just didn't convert," said Roberts.
Though the Johnnies were without the services of junior forward Justin Brownlee because of a death in the family, the team still put up good numbers. Evans contributed 12 points to the mix, while redshirt senior forward Anthony Mason Jr., and junior swingman D.J. Kennedy each recorded 10 points a piece.
St. John's junior guard Dwight Hardy, who tied the game-high 19 points, was the man for about three minutes of the first half as he led the Johnnies on a 16-0 run starting at the 14:56 mark. The run was extended to a 24-4 surge that was sparked by a basket by Hardy and capped with a bucket in transition by junior guard Paris Horne. Hardy recorded 13 points for the Johnnies during the entire stretch. The surge included three consecutive 3-pointers by Hardy, who finished 7-for-15 from the field and 5-for-9 from the perimeter
As a result, St. John's held a 29-18 advantage at the 8:08 mark of the first stanza but, Villanova came back to close the gap to trail by only a one-point differential, 38-37, before the close of the half.
The Wildcats and the Johnnies netted 22 and 21 points off turnovers, respectively. However, St. John's forced 20 'Nova turnovers, 12 in the first half. Meanwhile, St. John's committed 14 of their own in the contest.
Villanova outscored St. John's 44-33 in the second half comeback. The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field (28-for-56) and 28.6 percent (4-for-14) from the arc. The Johnnies netted 39.3 percent (24-for-61) from the field and 37.5 percent (6-for-16) from the outer circle.
The Wildcats won the rebounding battle, owning a 41-32 advantage on the boards. Twenty-nine of those 'Nova rebounds came in the second half.
"We didn't sense it coming, I think it just happened," said Johnnies point guard Malik Boothe. "They started hitting their shots and we started missing shots. They started beating us to loose balls, the 50-50 balls. For us to win games, we can't let that happen."
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