NEW YORK (AP) — Darrun Hilliard, Daniel Ochefu and No. 8 Villanova took off in the second half and made sure one loss didn’t lead to another.
Hilliard scored 21 points and the Wildcats rebounded nicely from their first defeat of the season, pulling away from No. 24 St. John’s for a 90-72 victory Tuesday night.
“It was great, just knowing that this team is able to bounce back,” said Hilliard, who scored 17 in the second half. “We watched the film of Seton Hall and we corrected it tonight.”
Dylan Ennis added 15 points and nine rebounds for the balanced Wildcats (14-1, 2-1 Big East) in a matchup of teams that both lost at Seton Hall last week. Ochefu had 13 points and 13 boards to help coach Jay Wright earn his 300th win at Villanova. Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in with 10 assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes.
“A great second half for us,” Wright said. “We got hot and started hitting some 3-pointers, and Daniel Ochefu really became a presence inside. Great win for us against a very good team.”
D’Angelo Harrison scored 25 for the Red Storm (11-4, 0-3), who dropped their third straight after a promising showing in non-conference play. Second-leading scorer Rysheed Jordan returned from a one-game leave of absence and provided little, shooting 0 for 6 and scoring a season-low two points in 26 minutes.
Trailing by two, Villanova took control with a 9-0 spurt midway through the second half. Moments later, Sir’Dominic Pointer picked up three fouls for St. John’s in a span of 1:42 and fouled out with 7:47 remaining.
Red Storm big man Chris Obekpa was re-inserted with four fouls, and Ochefu went to work inside. The 6-foot-11 junior, who had career bests of 19 points and 24 rebounds Saturday in the overtime loss to Seton Hall, scored four straight easy baskets as the Wildcats opened a 79-63 lead with 4 minutes to go.
“Just taking advantage of opportunities,” Ochefu said. “Obviously, there were little guys on me, so it was a lot easier than with Pointer and Obekpa.”
Obekpa hobbled to the bench earlier in the second half with a sore ankle but returned a few minutes later before a lively crowd at Madison Square Garden, with St. John’s fans set on drowning out chants for visiting Villanova.
Jordan, the Red Storm’s sixth man, came off the bench following the first media timeout and airballed his first two shots. The sophomore guard, who was averaging 14 points per game, took an “indefinite” leave of absence last week but rejoined the team Monday following his grandmother’s death.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin had said after Saturday’s loss to Butler that Jordan wouldn’t play Tuesday, but then changed course Monday.
“He had a really good practice yesterday, but it’s tough to step in to this level of competition against a quality team like Villanova when you had a disjointed week, as he clearly experienced,” Lavin said.
Harrison had 16 points in the first half, and the Red Storm went into the break leading 35-34.
“We don’t have any bad losses. Coach stressed that in the locker room,” he said. “We are playing great teams and they are giving us their best shot. We have to fight back and find a way to win. We’re going to do that.”
Villanova: The Wildcats entered with five players averaging in double digits, none more than Hilliard’s 12.4 points per game. … Wright is 300-150 at Villanova. … The Wildcats outrebounded St. John’s 41-21 and got 25 points from their bench to seven for the Red Storm. … Villanova had 22 assists to eight for St. John’s.
St. John’s: Phil Greene IV had 14 points. … Harrison has scored at least 20 in six straight games, including 31 in Saturday’s 73-69 home loss to Butler. … St. John’s leads 60-50 in a series that dates to 1909, making Villanova the most frequent opponent in school history. The Wildcats have won six consecutive meetings, including two that went to overtime.
The Red Storm opened 0-5 in Big East play last season, including an early January loss to No. 8 Villanova at Madison Square Garden that left them with an 0-3 conference record.
Pointer and Obekpa combined to block five shots in the first 8:13. Pointer finished with four blocks and Obekpa three. St. John’s is averaging seven blocks per game, sixth in the country.
Villanova: Home against DePaul on Saturday.
St. John’s: At Providence next Wednesday.
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