Hopes for an historic upset never got out of the starting gate, as Villanova throttled St. John’s 108-67 Thursday afternoon in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.
Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo led all scorers with a career-high 25 points on 7-8 shooting and a 5-6 mark from behind the 3-point line.
DiVincenzo has terrorized the Johnnies all season, as he has posted a new career high in each meeting with the Red Storm. He poured in 19 in his first visit to Madison Square Garden, then added reached 20 in the teams’ rematch in early February before setting a new milestone Thursday.
“Going into the game I was confident, as always,” DiVincenzo said. “Only thing I can say about the 25 is it’s all about the seniors. Everyone was making the right play, they were finding me and I was knocking down shots.”
In three meetings with St. John’s, DiVincenzo has shot a combined 72.4% from the floor and 66.7% from behind the arc. Entering Thursday, he averaged 7.8 ppg for the season, and his highest total against an opponent not named St. John’s was a 17 at Xavier February 11.
Villanova reached the century mark for the first time in two years on Dylan Painter’s layup with 3:33 left in the game. The last time the Wildcats broke 100 was also against St. John’s: a 105-68 victory March 7, 2015.
Villanova’s led by 26 at halftime, thanks to Kris Jenkins’ replication of last year’s NCAA Championship game. With three seconds on the clock, coach Jay Wright called timeout and set up a play on which Jenkins nailed a deep three from the right wing.
“I hope so,” Wright said when asked if he intends to break out that play again this March. “We take advantage of all those opportunities. There’s no better practice than the game.”
In the closing minutes, the Wildcats led by as many as 43, which set a season high for the team’s overall lead. Their final margin of 41 ties a Big East Tournament record set by Syracuse’s 96-55 win over Boston College in 1999. Villanova’s 108 points were their most ever in a tournament game.
Five Wildcats joined DiVincenzo in double figures, including Jenkins with a season-high 24. Eric Paschall contributed 17 to the effort, while Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart poured in 15 to go along with six rebounds and five assists. Jalen Brunson and Painter added 14 and 10 respectively.
For St. John’s, the loss ends what has been an encouraging season for the Red Storm. Second-year head coach Chris Mullin has led the program back to relevance with the infusion of young stars like Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds, with more youthful talent in the pipeline.
“Improvement, progression [both] individually and collectively,” Mullin said of what he looks for heading into his third season. “Lots to look forward to.”
Ponds finished the regular season as the Red Storm’s leading scorer at 17.6 points per game, while LoVett contributed 16.4. Both marks fell within the top ten amongst all Big East players. The next-highest averages among freshmen were Marquette’s Markus Howard and Creighton’s Justin Patton at 13.1 ppg, 19th overall in the conference.
Thursday afternoon, LoVett and junior Bashir Ahmed were the lone St. John’s players to reach double figures as each finished with 12.
There is still a ways to go before the Red Storm reach the level of their quarterfinal opponent and can consistently contend not just to make the NCAA Tournament, but the make noise in March. According to KenPom.com, St. John’s is the eighth-youngest team in the nation, with an average of 0.91 years of experience on the roster.
“You look at the really, really good teams, Villanova being one of them, they’ve got experience,” Mullin said. “Game experience. They’ve won and lost together, and they’ve spent summers together.”
For now, their coach is hopeful the path ahead and trials along it will lead to future success.
“I think defensively we need to improve,” Mullin added. “I do think a lot of that will come with strength and maturity. Players improve a lot in the offseason. That’s the best time to do it…it’s a really good time to develop team chemistry. I think having more guys playing with each other, working out together in the summertime will be another part of something we haven’t had.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.