PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – A 26-point performance from national player of the year candidate Josh Hart helped lift the Villanova Wildcats to a 92-79 victory over St. John’s Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova grabbed a double digit lead in the opening minutes of play and never lost control of a game it led by as many as 26 points.
With the victory, the No. 4 Wildcats improved to 22-2 overall, 9-2 in the BIG EAST while the Red Storm drops to 11-14 overall, 5-7 BIG EAST.
In addition to Hart’s stellar play – he also contributed nine rebounds, five assists and a steal – Villanova got a large boost from redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo, who contributed a season high 20 points and seven rebounds. Senior Kris Jenkins – who didn’t start in what head coach Jay Wright described simply as an effort to “change things up and get him going” – added 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.
A pair of 3-pointers from Mikal Bridges helped Villanova build an 8-0 lead 4:11 into the first half. In that stretch the Wildcats held St. John’s without a field goal in seven attempts from the floor.
Villanova kept the heat on and expanded the margin to 16-2 before Marcus Lovett dropped in a 3-pointer to cut the gap to 16-5. Just as it seemed the Red Storm was finding its form, enter Donte DiVincenzo. The redshirt freshman from Wilmington, Del,, reeled off 10 straight points, as part of a 15-point first half outburst, and the Wildcats were in front 32-9.
“I was really proud of the start we had tonight,” stated Wright. “We had good practices, the guys were really focused and dialed into the scouting report. It was a good start.”
Foul trouble forced Villanova to alter its lineup in the final five minutes of the period as Darryl Reynolds was whistled for his third foul while Jalen Brunson and Kris Jenkins were saddled with two fouls. Lovett helped the Red Storm construct a 10-0 burst in the final minutes of the period that narrowed the halftime lead to 46-28.
St. John’s wasted no time closing the gap in the first 1:22 of the second half, putting together a 7-0 run that narrowed Villanova’s lead to 46-35 and forced head coach Jay Wright to call for time.
Jenkins and Hart helped restore the Villanova lead, pushing the margin to 66-46 with 11:11 left to play in the game.
“That’s just how we want Kris to play,” stated Wright. “It says he had four assists but I thought there were more. He was awesome.”
Yet St.. John’s persisted and create a measure of discomfort for the Wildcats in the final minutes. A 14-0 burst narrowed the gap to 87-78 with 46 seconds left. But a Jenkins old-fashioned 3-point play with 13 seconds let sealed the result.
“It was one of those games,” stated Wright. “It’s tough to play with a lead. We had a lead and we got sloppy. The two games we lost have been similar to this. We just have not played well with a lead. We just hit shots – Kris hit shots, Josh made big plays. But there’s more to it than just making shots.”
: The Wildcats return to the Pavilion on Tuesday evening for the first time in three weeks for another BIG EAST clash. Georgetown makes its first appearance in 11 years on campus in a contest that gets underway at 7 p.m. (FS1 and 610 Sports Radio).