Villanova forward Michael Bradley came into Saturday’s game against St. John’s averaging 22.3 points per game and 8.8 rebounds a game. The Red Storm knew he was going to be difficult to stop.
Using the combined efforts of Donald Emanuel, Mohamed Diakite and Kyle Cuffe, SJU made Bradley’s life difficult. He did manage to get a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but it was a very quiet performance as he only scored three points in the final nine minutes as. The Red Storm had control and held double-digit leads throughout that stretch en route to a 82-70 victory Saturday afternoon.
It’s been a reversal of fortune for the Red Storm. One month ago St. John’s was losing to Hofstra and Fordham and had a 4-5 record. Now it sports a 10-6 record and is 4-1 in conference play, which ties them for first place in the East Division with Boston College.
At the start of the game the Red Storm had to overcome early afternoon struggles as the Wildcats (11-5, 3-1) jumped out to an early 21-12 lead with 10:08 remaining in the first half.. In that stretch SJU went scoreless for over six minutes. Slowly SJU rallied and went on 22-8 run to take a 34-29 lead at half-time.
In the second half the Red Storm continued to roll and came out on fire and took a double-digit lead 43-33 three minutes into the half. St. John’s cruised the rest of the way for the win.
Anthony Glover led the Red Storm with 20 points and Willie Shaw chipped in with 18. In that mix of shots for Glover was some short jump shots he had been working on in practice.
“It helped a lot when I got the ball in the post, so Coach [Mike Jarvis] has been telling me when I get the ball in the post to face up and take the short jump shot,” Glover said.
But the most important stat was the effort in the center position. Cuffe, Emanuel and Diakite combined for 21 points and 12 rebounds, the best effort by the centers so far this season.
“Coach is starting to have more confidence in what I can do,” said Emanuel. So when I get out there I’m not that nervous.”
More importantly they contained Bradley. “My job was to try and stop him [Bradley] as best as I could,” Emanuel said. “We just tried to make it difficult for him I knew he was going to beat me but I wanted him to work for it.”
Emanuel’s play earned him a standing ovation from the Garden crowd “I appreciate it,” he said. “I love the Garden,it’s been a rocky climb for me and they always stayed behind me, It was good to hear.”
Besides the defense in the post, the all-around effort by St. John’s forced Villanova to commit 23 turnovers which resulted in 28 Red Storm points.
“Turnovers are obviously killing us,” said Villanova Head Coach Steve Lappas. “And they had 14 steals, a lot of those 14 steals became baskets and that was the game without question.”
“We put about six different things up on the board at half-time that we needed to do better in the second half and we did all of them,” said Jarvis. “I’d say the second half, in terms of carrying out the game plan, was probably the best that it’s been.”
Slowly the right ingredients are coming together for the Johnnies. “We learned from our mistakes and I’m talking about the coaches as well as the players,” Jarvis said. “It took us awhile to make the sauce, we had the tomatoes, we had the hamburger but it wasn’t all together. We were trying to find the right ingredients to put in and we just didn’t find it early.”
St. John’s will need to execute that game plan as well as they did against Miami on Monday. After struggling to an 0-4 start in the Big East, they have won two in a row including a six point home win over Connecticut on Saturday.