Defense lifts No. 9 Villanova basketball over St. Johns

villanova basketballFor the second straight game, #9 Villanova basketball (23-4, 12-2) came down to the wire with an unranked opponent. On Saturday the Wildcats traveled to Madison Square Garden to take on the St. Johns Red Storm (18-10, 8-7). Two forced turnovers by the Wildcat defense in the last 34 seconds sealed a 57-54 Nova victory.

Darrun Hilliard lead all scorers with 18 points while Ryan Arcidiacono dropped 12 points of his own plus 3 rebounds and 3 assists. However, Villanova’s offense was not the story coming out of this weekends game. The Wildcat’s played tenacious D all 40 minutes causing St. Johns to toss up bad shots and force weak passes. The Red Storm shot a measly 19-of-59(.322) on the afternoon.

As if the Big East wasn’t competitive already, the Red Storm were on a 6-game winning streak coming into Saturday afternoon’s game. That streak ended when the Wildcats came to NYC. Averaging 69 points per game, Villanova scored a season low of 57 points. The Red Storm are 1st in the conference in scoring defense, giving up on average 66 points per game while the Wildcat’s sit at 7th in the conference giving up 67.9 ppg. Villanova head coach Jay Wright may not have been too pleased with the team’s offensive performance on Saturday, but he must have been impressed with their ability to stop the shot.

Saturday’s offensive effort of 57 points marks the team’s season low in 2013-2014. However this is the fourth time this season the Wildcats gave up 54 or fewer points protecting the basket.

Darrun Hilliard kept up his 3-point shooting reputation going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc contributed 12 points to his 18 total points. Philly native Rasheed Jordan had the hot hand for the Red Storm scoring 13 points while junior playmaker D’Angelo Harrison had 15 of his own.

Hitting shots under pressure late in the game came in clutch for the Wildcats. Averaging a team-high 15.9 ppg, James Bell’s 9 total points marked the first time since December 15th that the senior failed to reach double digits. With 5:57 remaining in the 2nd half, a Bell trey put the Wildcats up 50-47. Bell may have stayed quiet for most of the game, but his two three-pointers counted when it mattered most.

With 3:43 remaining in the second half, Arcidiacono’s catches a pass at the top of the circle launching one up and draining it putting the Wildcats ahead 53-50. Wright’s squad maintained this lead until the buzzer sounded.

Looking ahead to the next time the team hits the hardwood, the Wildcats will next host in-conference rival Butler(12-15, 2-13) on February 26th at 8:00 pm ET.

The two teams last met on New Years Eve when the Bulldogs took the Wildcats to an overtime thriller where Villanova pulled away with a 76-73 triumph.

The Wildcats will look to stop sophomore guard Kellon Dunham from causing the same havoc he committed in their last meeting. Dunham dropped 22 points including an off-balanced jump-shot that sent the game into overtime. Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston need to stop Dunham at all costs to prevent a repeat of NYE’s nail-biter. Even if that means doubling up on him if he penetrates to the lane.