February 23, 2021 –
When the Wildcats met the Red Storm of St. John’s in New York earlier this month, St. John’s dominated Villanova for a decisive victory. This time #8 Villanova turned the tables, established themselves early, and won 81 – 58. the lowest number of points scored by the Red Storm. The Wildcats learned their lessons from the previous game.
“We have great respect for St. John’s,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “They taught us a lot last game. When you get beat like that, you have to give them respect, learn from it, and grow. I think we did a good job of that.”
Villanova guard Collin Gillespie faced the Red Storm again. In that first game he was held to his lowest point total and highest number of turnovers. This time Gillespie set the positive tone early. Within the first eight plus minutes the senior scored 10 points, assisted twice, pulled down 2 rebounds and stole the ball once as Villanova went out to a 17 – 9 lead.
“He is our heart and soul, he is our engine,” Wright said of Gillespie. “To see him come out like that, so tough, so aggressive, that’s what college athletics are all about. He had a tough game against them last time. He comes back with great confidence, not trying to do it all on his own, getting other people shots, making the right plays. That’s what’s amazing about him.”
The Cats picked up on that. A few minutes later reserves Brandon Slater and Bryan Antoine combined on a highlight reel play. Antione came up with a steal close to the sideline, fed the ball to a streaking Slater who jammed it home. On the ensuing possession Slater stole the ball and a dunked it to increase the lead to 28 – 12. Clearly, there was excitement on the Villanova sideline. And pleased their coach.
“They gave us a great spark there in the first half,” Wright observed. “That’s what you’re really into as a coach. You want to see these guys grow, that’s why you coach college. You want to see them learn how to play on this level, gain confidence in themselves, and how hard they worked to get to this point. In the long run that excites me more than wins.”
That sequence, part of an 18 – 5 Nova run over four and a half minutes, would produce a 31 – 14 lead, that would grow to as many as 20 points before halftime. The start said the ending would not be the same as in New York, a statement the Wildcats wanted to make.
“It was good for us because they can really get into you and change the game with their speed and they way they come at you physically and with the press,” said Gillespie. “I think our guys did a really good job of handling it and making the right play.”
In terms of team speed and lone range shooting, a key on the first game, St. John’s only got 8 points off the break and sank 3 of 23 from beyond the arc.
Gillespie finished the game with 14 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. Caleb Daniels led the team in scoring with 17 points as he drained 4 of 6 from three-point land. Jermaine Samuels scored 14 points and grabbled 9 caroms, 5 off the offensive glass. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl put in 12 points.
Julian Champagnie led St. John’s with 16 points, 10 of which came in the second half. and 7 rebounds. Coach Mike Anderson labeled this as a must game for his team and their NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Wildcats improve to 15 – 3 overall, 10 – 2 in the Big East, and 8 – 0 at the Finneran Pavilion. They remain on top of the league standings, and travels to Butler on Sunday.
Written By: Glenn Papazian