St. John’s got one break when Villanova left 6-11 center Daniel Ochefu home in Philadelphia suffering from a concussion, and the Red Storm made breaks on its own while holding the No. 6 team in the country to 36.2 percent shooting and forcing 20 turnovers.
But Chris Mullin’s inexperienced team simply lacked the firepower to take advantage of the opportunities it created. A one-point halftime deficit turned into a 68-53 blowout as St. John’s suffered its 12th straight loss Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
The boxscore told a familiar story. Despite the good defensive numbers by the Red Storm (7-15, 0-8 Big East), it shot only 32.8 percent, was outrebounded 48-35 and made only 7 of 12 foul shots compared to 19 of 25 by the Wildcats (18-3, 8-1).
Although St. John’s had only one more turnover than Villanova, it was outscored 18-4 on points off turnovers, underlining the difference in skill level.
Ron Mvouika, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, drained a three-pointer from 30-foot range at the halftime buzzer to cut Villanova’s lead to 28-27. But the Wildcats got six points from Josh Hart (16 points, 11 rebounds) in a 19-4 run that gave the visitors a 50-34 lead.
“Villanova is a great team,” Mvouika said. “They don’t make mistakes. We had empty possessions for eight minutes where we were giving balls away. Against a team like that, they’re going to make us pay. I thought we played great defense, but we had that little lapse that cost us the game, I think.”
The Wildcats figured to suffer without Ochefu, but they had the depth to withstand his loss thanks to a double-double from Kris Jenkins (14 points, 11 rebounds) and 13 points from Mikal Bridges. Durand Johnson scored 13 points and Christian Jones had 10 for St. John’s.
Johnson had five points in a 12-0 run that gave the Storm a 21-15 lead, but Villanova regained control with a 12-0 run of its own. Three-pointers in the final minute by Amar Alibegovic and Mvouika made it a one-point game at halftime, but that was as good as it got for St. John’s.
Villanova coach Jay Wright was impressed by the level of fight in Mullin’s team.
“I talked to Chris about it,” Wright said. “I don’t know if there’s any team in the country where a coach has come in and you’ve got [three] guys coming back and you’ve got guys you’ve recruited late. His ability to get them to play hard every night and never quit is amazing.”
Mullin has remained on an even keel during the rebuilding process.
“It’s not supposed to be easy,” he said. “When it turns around, it’s going to be much more sweet. And it will. I know it will. I feel for them because it’s the last year for some of these guys, and they’re giving me everything they’ve got.
“Believe me, for two hours, I’m thinking some bad thoughts. But I get past that and understand the process. So I’m trying to help these guys get through it.”