By Jack Ryan
Villanova came to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night on the heels of its first loss to Seton Hall last Saturday.
And the No. 8 Cats trailed No. 24 St. John’s at the half.
But a steal and breakaway just before intermission by Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono seemed to change the momentum of the game.
Arcidiacono was fouled and D’Angelo Harrison went down grabbing his knee and limping off to the locker room a second early. Harrison returned with a right knee contusion and had nine in the second half to finish with 25, but the Red Storm never recovered as Villanova ran away with a 90-72 Big East road win.
The Wildcats were lights out in the second half and completely dismantled a tired and hurting St. John’s team. Even at home, the Red Storm wore down with their limited rotation and foul trouble. Sir’Dominic Pointer fouled out with over seven minutes left and Chris Obekpa found himself hurting after a second-half play.
Villanova only got stronger.
Darrun Hillard scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half and Daniel Ochefu had another tremendous outing with another double-double. Ochefu finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots and dominated the second frame on the interior with plays all over the paint. His activity coupled with the heated-up shooting of Hillard gave Villanova (14-1, 2-1) all they needed.
This game and the terrific 19-point, 24-rebound effort against Seton Hall show how much Ochefu has improved during the course of the season. He has five career double-doubles and three of those have come in the last four games. When Ochefu missed a double-double against Butler in that stretch, he was one rebound short of having four straight double-double.
Ochefu has improved significantly during this stretch of play and he should probably be getting more post touches because he’s also shown that he’s a capable passer.
This is a great comeback victory for Villanova after the road loss at Seton Hall on Saturday and they haven’t lost back-to-back games since the 2012-13 season. They came out strong in the second half after a so-so opener and finished off St. John’s quickly.
Hilliard and Ochefu played well against Seton Hall, as well, but on Tuesday Dylan Ennis was able to step in and provide 15 points to be a third scorer. Arcidiacono also had nine points, eight assists and no turnovers and he and Ennis played significantly better after a collectively poor game against the Pirates.
St. John’s falls to 0-3 in the Big East and 11-4 overall. The Red Storm started 0-5 in the conference last season and need to find some more reliable bench options if at all possible while getting more consistency from Rysheed Jordan. Jordan returned on Tuesday to go 0-for-6 from the field and played erratically.