VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Caleb Daniels blocked a shot into the student section in the waning minutes and came right for a driving bucket that sealed one more Villanova win.
Now comes the hard part for the Wildcats: a defining stretch that could determine which team wins the Big East.
Collin Gillespie scored 17 points, Eric Dixon and Daniels each had 15 and No. 14 Villanova used a 3-point happy first half to roll to a 73-62 win over St. John’s on Saturday night.
The Wildcats (16-5, 9-2 Big East) put this one away with a decisive 19-2 run and nine 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes to cruise to their third straight win.
The Wildcats are headed into the teeth of their conference schedule as the perennial powerhouse is instead in a fight for the conference championship. They open the month with consecutive games against ranked teams, Marquette and Connecticut. The Golden Eagles snapped just last week Villanova’s 29-game winning streak at the Pavilion. There are games against ranked Providence and UConn that soon follow in a rugged February.
“The good thing is, you don't have to say anything to the guys about that,” coach Jay Wright said. “Our mantra is, we keep getting better the next day. It's actually easier when you know the next team you've got coming up beat you. And they're a nationally-ranked team. It shouldn't be this way, but it's human nature. They're a little bit more dialed in.”
If the Wildcats hit 3s like they did early against the Red Storm (11-8, 3-5), they should be fine.
Villanova’s offense was actually on the fritz for the start and were tied 17-all with St. John’s, a tough start a season after the Red Storm pulled off an upset at Carnesecca Arena.
Justin Moore hit a 3 to start the run, one of five 3s during the game-changing charge that put the Wildcats in control. The best sequence during the run came on a Moore 3 off a turnover. The Wildcats then forced a turnover when Gillespie saved a tipped ball by spiking it in bounds. Villanova pounced and Daniels hit a 3 for a 33-19 lead.
“We were moving the ball and making extra passes,” Wright said. “It's easy to say that as a coach, but when you've got guys in, you smacking at the ball, it's hard to have your head up and see. We had a period there where we had our heads up, making the extra passes and getting the open shots. The rest of the game, we did not.”
The Wildcats made 9 of 12 3s in the first half and led by 18.
“We allowed their guys to really use that 3-point line as a weapon,” St. John's coach Mike Anderson said.
Montez Mathis led St. John’s with 14 points The Red Storm missed 10 of 12 3s in the first half and shot just 40% from the floor overall. Julian Champagnie, who led the team in scoring with 19.5 points, was held to just nine and missed all four 3s.
“He's getting opportunities,” Anderson said. “I've got all the faith in him that it'll come. He's just in a slump.”
St. John’s: The Red Storm started a stretch of four games in eight days, three of which are on the road. The only home game this week is against a ranked Providence team. Keep an eye out for an upset, the Red Storm are 2-0 at home against Providence under Anderson.
Villanova: Moore scored eight points and fell two shy of 1,000 for his career. Moore had been on a tear of late and averaged 17.1 points over his last nine games. The junior guard was named Big East player of the week in early January and helped the Wildcats go 8-1 this month.
St. John's missed 17 of 21 3-point attempts and made only 8 of 17 free throws. The Wildcats made 20 of 24 from the line.
St. John’s: Hosts No. 17 Providence on Tuesday. The Red Storm are 0-3 against Top 25 teams.
Villanova: Play Wednesday at No. 22 Marquette.
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