March 5, 2005
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK - Jay Wright and his Villanova team breathed a huge sigh of relief after barely hanging on against stubborn St. John's and leaving Madison Square Garden with a win.
"If we just played this game and were looking at playing them again in this building in the Big East tournament, we'd be worried," Wright said.
"St. John's was tough and we're going to have to play a lot of teams just like this in the Big East tournament and NCAA tournament," Foye said.
Will Sheridan added 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (21-6, 11-5 Big East), who have won seven straight and have a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which starts Wednesday. The Wildcats play Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals Thursday.
"I would never plan this, but to be at the Garden in a tough game in a tough environment and going into the Big East tournament, maybe this will help us," said Wright, whose team blew a 16-point lead in the second half.
Daryll Hill scored 31 points and Lamont Hamilton had 20 for St. John's (9-18, 3-13), which ended its season with its fourth straight loss.
"We competed," first-year St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "We could've folded our tents - this is the last game of the year - but these guys don't do that. They don't fold their tents, and that shows how much character these guys have."
The Red Storm won't play in the Big East tournament because of the school's self-imposed postseason ban after an investigation revealed that former player Abe Keita received cash from an athletic department employee.
"What I said to the guys is that there are a lot of teams saying they're glad they don't have to play us in the Big East tournament," Roberts said.
Villanova opened the second half with a 13-2 run to take a 49-35 lead at the 16:33 mark, and made it 58-42 on Sheridan's layup with 10:26 left.
But St. John's stormed back and got within four with 2:09 remaining after Hill's turnaround jumper made it 65-61. Hamilton made it 65-63 with 1:13 left, and tied it with two free throws 18 seconds later.
"We really battled back and played hard," Hamilton said. "We played like a team."
Villanova regained the lead on Sheridan's tip-in with 40.2 seconds remaining, but he then fouled out with 32.9 seconds left and Eugene Lawrence made the second of two free throws to make it 67-66.
Ray was then fouled by Cedrick Jackson and made both free throws with 27.5 seconds left to put Villanova ahead 69-66. Hill made a running jumper 24 seconds later, but Ray was fouled by Lawrence with 7.8 seconds left and Ray made the second of two shots to make it 70-68.
"I think St. John's really played like they had nothing to lose and we played lackadaisical in that second half," Ray said. "St. John's really gave us all they had."
St. John's tried to get the ball up for one final shot, but Randy Foye intercepted Phil Missere's pass to Hill at halfcourt and Villanova hung on.
"I just anticipated the pass," Foye said. "I saw him face toward me and I got the steal - a lucky steal. And if not for that, they might have been able to tie it."
The Wildcats went on their big run after Hamilton's dunk got St. John's within three at 38-35 just 42 seconds into the second half.
Ray made a layup at the 18:57 mark and made one of two free throws 46 seconds later. Roberts was hit with a technical and Curtis Sumpter made one of two foul shots to make it 43-35 at 17:37.
Three seconds later, Sheridan was fouled by Hamilton and completed a three-point play. Ray's 3-pointer at 16:35 gave Villanova a 49-35 lead.
"St. John's just never gave up," Wright said. "We kept saying that to our guys - 'they're not going to go away and you have to keep playing.' In the end, I was proud of how our guys executed down the stretch."
Point guard Mike Nardi was back in Villanova's starting lineup for the first time in four games after he sat out two and playing sparingly in a third with a sprained right ankle.
But Sumpter gave the Wildcats a brief scare when he limped off the court with about a minute left in the first half after taking a hard fall and aggravating his sprained left knee. He was OK and played the second half.