NEW YORK, N.Y. -- A midtown traffic snarl forced the Villanova Wildcats to walk six blocks to enter Madison Square Garden on Thursday morning. But the extra steps were no obstacle, as the Wildcats jumped on the St. John's Red Storm (14-18 overall) in the opening minutes of the team's BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinal and never looked back on their way to a 108-67 triumph.
The points are the most scored this season by Villanova and most ever scored by the `Cats in a BIG EAST Tournament contest. The 41-point win was also the school's largest margin of victory in a BIG EAST Tournament game.
Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo continued his sizzling play against the Red Storm, registering a new career high against St. John's for the third time in as many meetings this season. DiVicenzo was 7-of-8 from the field and finished with 25 points, five rebounds and four assists. Senior Kris Jenkins contributed 24 points, including an early 11-point flurry in the first 10 minutes of the contest that got Villanova off to a fast start.
"I'm real proud of the performance we had," stated Wildcats head coach Jay Wright. "I thought St. John's was a pretty tired team after having played such a tough game last night against Georgetown (a 74-73 Red Storm win). The game they played last night was a gutsy, old-school Big East game. We played like a mature team today and it's a credit to our seniors."
BIG EAST Player of the Year Josh Hart ended the day with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in 25 minutes.
"Kris was outstanding offensively and Josh Hart just set the tone defensively," Wright noted. "He wasn't trying to do too many things to prove he deserved to be player of the year. He went out there and played for his teammates, which was really impressive. Kris was great offensively and Donte just continues to get better for us."
Jenkins helped get the Wildcats off on the right foot, draining a pair of 3-point field goals in the opening minutes as part of an 11-point burst that helped staked Villanova to a 14-8 lead through the first 5:57 of the contest.
That helped kick start one of Villanova's best halves of 2016-17. Even with Mikal Bridges spending much of the period back in the locker room as he dealt with a stomach virus (he would play only one minute in the game), the Wildcats were crisp in their execution at both ends. Redshirt freshman guard Donte DiVincenzo, scored 19 and 20 points in this season's earlier meetings with the Red Storm, was in a groove again, registering 15 first half points to set the scoring pace for VU in the period.
The half ended much the way it began, with the Wildcats executing a sharp play to free Kris Jenkins for a long 3-pointer from just in front of the St. John's bench on the right side of the court. In a moment that paralleled his iconic game-winning shot to beat the buzzer in last season's NCAA championship game against North Carolina, Jenkins' rose up and dropped in a shot that fell through just before the horn sounded.
The count after 20 minutes of action was Villanova 52, St. John's 26. The Wildcats were not whistled for a single foul in the first half.
In a meeting between the two teams at the Wells Fargo Center on Feb. 4, the Red Storm closed a 26-point deficit to nine in the final minutes of the second half. But there would be no tense moments today as Villanova steadily upped its margin, sparked in part by a 52-26 edge in bench scoring as Eric Paschall (17 points) and Dylan Painter both made substantial contributions in a reserve capacity.
The Wildcats (29-3) advanced to the BIG EAST semifinal for the third time in a row.