RADNOR — Jay Wright tried everything in practice to emulate St. John’s version of “40 Minutes of Hell.”
The Villanova coach asked the Wildcats to play 6v5 and 7v5 in practice to try to emulate what the Red Storm likes to do. He also let the scout team foul at every opportunity.
In the end, doing what they do best, protecting the basketball and working for the extra pass, proved to be key Saturday in the Wildcats’ 73-62 triumph over the Red Storm at the Pavilion.
“You look at 11 assists against 11 turnovers, it’s really not that good against most teams,” Wright said. “But against them, dealing with the ball prevents them from going out. You saw it. Every time we returned it they were out. They were gone and they are great at it. And it’s hard to do. They run hard and drop the ball. You watch a movie of them and often the ball never hits the ground. It’s turnover, kick forward, kick forward, dunk. They are great at that, so I think taking care of the ball was important.
The 14th-ranked Wildcats never let St. John’s get their running game started. The Red Storm entered the game third in the nation in possessions per game (78). Villanova held them to 67 possessions.
“Our guys did a good job giving the guys passes and making solid decisions and going to score against the pressure,” said guard Collin Gillespie, who led the Wildcats with 17 points.
Villanova also limited St. John’s to 14 turnover points and just six quick break points. Most of that came in the second half after the Wildcats opened the game.
“It’s hard to play against a team like that because they play hard for 40 minutes,” added guard Caleb Daniels, who contributed 15 points off the bench. “We just wanted to stay strong and stay together all the time.”
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Justin Moore entered the match with 10 points to become the club’s last 1,000-point member from Villanova. He finished with eight points, snapping a double-digit nine-game streak where he averaged 17 points.
Some of Moore’s relatively low output was related to his defensive mission. The 6-4 junior guard was the main defender against Julien Champagnie, who entered the game as the Big East league’s top scorer. Moore and the Wildcats held Champagnie to nine points.
“Justin Moore did a really good job on Champagnie,” Wright said. “He can really drive it forward. He has already enlightened us.
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Junior guard Bryan Antoine did not play with a sprained ankle suffered in practice Friday. Antoine’s status going forward is up in the air.
“It’s day one,” Wright said. “When Slate (Brandon Slater) did it, we had two or three days off…And then Slate gradually got better. I don’t think Slate is 100%. I think he’s 90, which is really good, but he’s been through it all and I think Bryan is looking to go that route now. It’s a nice twist and we’ll see what we can do for him in terms of rest, trying to prepare him for the next game.
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NOTES >> Much of Antoine’s minutes went to Jordan Longino, who provided a spark off the bench. The 6-5 rookie played nearly 19 minutes and scored six points and was a plus-12 for the game. … Eric Dixon had another solid outing. He matched his career high with 15 points and also had seven rebounds. … The Wildcats hit the road for a rematch with Marquette on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.