By Annie Ross
L. J. Figueroa had 22 points and 12 rebounds and St. John’s rallied to beat Villanova, 71-65, the first win for the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden against he Cats in 17 years.
“It was as loud as I can remember, maybe louder,” said St. John’s Coach Chris Mullin, a former Red Storm star. He added: “There are some great places to play college basketball, but when you get a full Madison Square Garden against a championship team like Villanova, there’s nothing like that. It’s awesome. It helped us. It kept us in the game and took us to another level.”
Trailing by 17 late in the first half, the Red Storm (19-7, 7-6 Big East) scored the final 6 points, including Justin Simon’s shot from the opposite 3-point line that banked in just before the buzzer and made it 37-26.
“We were screaming the whole way into the locker room,” said Mustapha Heron, who added 19 points.
The Red Storm were down by 48-34 with 12 minutes 30 seconds left. They scored 20 of the next 25 points to take their first lead on Figueroa’s 3-pointer from the corner.
The teams traded the lead over the next few minutes before Figueroa hit another 3-pointer that gave the St. John’s a 58-57 advantage with 3:12 left and started a decisive 8-0 run.
The Red Storm converted their free throws down the stretch to complete their biggest comeback since the team rallied from a 20-point deficit against DePaul in 2010.
Joe Cremo scored 14 points for Villanova (20-6, 11-2), and Eric Paschall added 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The victory surely helped the St. John’s rèsumè in its efforts to make the N.C.A.A. tournament. Wildcats Coach Jay Wright offered a solid reference.