by Dan Gardella
New York – There’s a reason Madison Square Garden is called “The World’s Most Famous Arena”. Players step up and perform under the bright lights.
It’s safe to say that Donte DiVincenzo would love to play all of his games on the Garden hardwood. The redshirt sophomore tied a career high with 25 points and set a new career high with six three pointers as the Villanova Wildcats escaped the St. John’s Red Storm 78-71 Saturday night.
In a game that most people including Villanova head coach Jay Wright considered “ugly”, the Wildcats show their maturity, withholding a 37-point outburst from the Red Storm’s Shamorie Ponds and a late run by the Johnnies to improve to 4-1 in Big East play.
“We didn’t look good but I think the credit goes to St. John’s.” said Wright. “I thought they were outstanding defensively. They did a really good job on our guards keeping them out of the lane, creating turnovers, and with their three-quarter court pressure. We never got into sync.”
The most efficient team in the nation was far from that as they managed to shoot a mere 37% from the field in the opening frame and took a seven-point lead into the halftime break.
Villanova would respond out of halftime strong, shooting 50% and scoring 44 points in the final twenty minutes. The only issue was St. John’s was matching their intensity.
“They always play us hard here” said Wright. “They came ready to play”.
With Wildcat stars Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges struggling, DiVincenzo stepped up, tying his career high that he set last March at the Big East tournament against St. John’s.
While he carried the load offensively, it wasn’t the first thing on DiVincenzo’s mind.
“I try to be aggressive offensively, but I’m just trying to bring energy off the bench.” said DiVincenzo about his mindset coming off the pine.
The story in the second half was Shamorie Ponds. The sophomore scored 27 of the team’s 44 points in the final twenty minutes, keeping the Red Storm alive. With 59 seconds remaining, St. John’s cut the deficit to 69-65. After a Jalen Brunson missed jumper, Ponds was whistled for a foul in what looked like an over-the-back foul on Mikal Bridges. Although controversial, Bridges made both free throws and ultimately put the game out of reach.
With a career high in points and an almost unstoppable second half, Ponds was missing one thing: A win.
“Whatever my performance was, we didn’t get the win. I’m not satisfied” said Ponds.
For St. John’s (10-8) (0-6 Big East), it was another game where it slipped away in the final moments. The path does not get any easier as they travel to Cincinnati to take on Xavier at the Cintas Center.
For the Wildcats (16-1) (4-1 Big East), they take a trip down to D.C to battle with the Georgetown Hoyas.