‘Cats Bounce Johnnies from Tournament

The St. John’s men’s basketball team barely had enough time to take in the scenery before they were bounced from the Big East tournament by Villanova on Wednesday night.

The Red Storm (16-15, 8-10) fell to the Wildcats (20-12, 10-8) 66-53 after a game that saw the team go from being down 12 early in the first half, to taking the lead midway through the second, to being down 14 in the closing minutes.

“More than any schemes, I think we didn’t finish,” head coach Steve Lavin said. “We just didn’t finish shots we expected to finish.”

It took St. John’s most of the first half to get comfortable. The team failed to score a point for more than six minutes during the first half. That ended with a JaKarr Sampson field goal at the 9:11 mark. It sparked a rally for the Johnnies as they went on a 9-2 run.

That’s when freshman Christian Jones and junior Marco Bourgault scored seven points combined to end the half, giving the Red Storm everything they lacked: a shot behind the arc and involvement from the bench. Before Jones’ first basket at the 3:03 mark, every point had come courtesy of a St. John’s starter.

“I thought overall our bench performed well for us coming down the stretch this year,” Lavin said.

But that spark from the reserves wasn’t enough. After coming out of the break with a 5-2 run, St. John’s couldn’t contain Villanova sharpshooter Ryan Arcidiacono, who scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. The Red Storm lost the lead with 16:02 remaining and never regained it.

St. John’s Phil Greene led the Red Storm with 16 points. Newly named conference Rookie of the Year JaKarr Sampson added 13 points while going 5-18 from the field.

“I didn’t even know I took that many shots until the end of the game,” Sampson said. “I was just playing basketball, playing the game I love and just doing what I do.”

Mouphtaou Yarou had a game-high 18 points for Villanova while shooting 9 for 10 from the field. The rest of the Wildcats roster shot 13 for 44. In addition to Arcidiacano’s 15 points, Jayvaughn Pinkston contributed 12 points and nine rebounds.

The Red Storm’s outlook for the postseason is anything but certain. The loss was their fifth in a row and eighth of their last 10. It puts them in a questionable position for an NIT tournament bid, especially without the presence of suspended leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison, which the committee may consider.

“I want to give St. John’s a lot of credit,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They lost their leading scorer and you’re not just going to go find one.”

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