By Sam Bush
St. John’s took down another giant, stunning injury-thinned No. 1 Villanova, 79-75, for its second win over a top-five team this week — and first over the top-ranked team in 33 years.
Shamorie Ponds scored 26 points to spark the Red Storm (12-13, 1-11 Big East) to its first conference win of the season and easily their best week since Chris Mullin was in uniform, not the coach.
Mullin played for St. John’s when it beat No. 1 Georgetown, 66-65, on Jan. 26, 1985. And he was coaching on the sideline, exhorting his players, in the final minutes of the shocker against the Wildcats.
St. John’s beat then-No. 4 Duke, 81-77, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, snapping an 11-game losing streak. It was the first win for St. John’s since Dec. 20 against St. Joseph’s.
The Wildcats (22-2, 9-2) ended a nine-game winning streak and will surely tumble from the top of the national rankings, where they’ve spent the last five weeks at No. 1.
Jalen Brunson, a leading candidate for national player of the year, nearly rallied Villanova to victory down the stretch. He buried a jumper and scored on a fast break set up by Omari Spellman’s blocked shot to make the score 67-63. St. John’s turned the ball over off the inbounds play and Brunson, who led the Wildcats with 28 points, made the Red Storm pay on a crashing layup that sent him to the line. He hit the free throw to pull Villanova to 67-66 with 1 minute 34 seconds left.
Collin Gillespie nearly helped make it 10 straight wins for the Wildcats when he pulled them to 74-73 on a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. But that was about the only clutch 3-pointer of the game for the Wildcats, who missed 24 of 33 attempts.
The Red Storm held on from the free-throw line for the victory.
The Red Storm used just six players — and had the one who mattered most in Ponds. Ponds, a 6-foot-1 guard, scored a career-high 37 points against Villanova in early January at Madison Square Garden. In a season where the Wildcats have roughed up the Big East, St. John’s lost by only 78-71 and stayed close until the final two minutes.