NEW YORK (AP) — Mouphtaou Yarou made his first seven shots and scored 18 points, sending Villanova to a 66-53 victory over St. John’s in the second round of the Big East tournament Wednesday night.
Ryan Arcidiacono added 15 points to help the seventh-seeded Wildcats (20-12) move into the quarterfinals, where they will play Thursday night against fourth-ranked Louisville, the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
JayVaughn Pinkston had 12 points and nine rebounds for Villanova, which shook off St. John’s midway through the second half. Yarou, a senior center winding down his Wildcats career, finished 9 for 10 from the field with seven rebounds and three steals.
Phil Greene scored 16 on 7-of-19 shooting for the 10th-seeded Red Storm (16-15). JaKarr Sampson, the conference Rookie of the Year, had 13 points and nine rebounds.
Villanova has an RPI ranking of 53 but appears to be in good shape for an NCAA tournament berth thanks to three wins over top 5 teams this season, plus a victory over Marquette, which shared the Big East championship.
The Wildcats made seven straight NCAA tournament appearances before last season’s 13-win team missed out. But coach Jay Wright and his balanced squad have rebounded pretty quickly.
St. John’s, which was playing on one of its home courts, will hope for a bid from the NIT. The Red Storm have dropped five in a row and seven of eight.
The Wildcats hadn’t played in a week since beating No. 5 Georgetown 67-57 in their regular-season finale. But they looked sharp enough, going 19 of 23 at the foul line (83 percent) to 9 of 14 for St. John’s (64 percent), the worst free throw-shooting team in the league.
Sophomore swingman Sir’Dominic Pointer returned to the lineup for St. John’s following a one-game suspension for being involved in a fight during a 66-40 defeat at Notre Dame on March 5. Pointer sat out an overtime loss to Marquette in the regular-season finale.
The Red Storm were still missing top scorer D’Angelo Harrison, though. Third in the Big East at 17.8 points per game, the sophomore guard was suspended March 1 for the rest of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. He has missed the last four games, all losses.
Sampson drew a technical foul for hanging on the rim when he went up for an offensive rebound with 8:19 to go. Darrun Hilliard hit both foul shots and Villanova was awarded the ball on alternate possession. Daniel Ochefu scored inside to put the Wildcats up 50-40.
Five straight points by Greene, on a 3-pointer and fast-break layup following a steal, cut the St. John’s deficit to five. But the Wildcats scored the next seven, beginning with James Bell’s layup off a feed from Arcidiacono, to go ahead 57-45 with less than three minutes remaining.
Villanova raced out to an 18-6 lead behind Yarou, who hit all six of his shots in the first half. But the Red Storm responded with Greene and Sampson and closed the half on an 18-6 spurt of their own to send the teams into the locker room tied at 24.
Villanova and St. John’s are two of the seven basketball-centric Catholic schools breaking away from the conference to create their own league, which will begin play next season and keep the Big East name.
This was their seventh meeting in the Big East tournament and first since 2000.
Villanova beat St. John’s 98-86 in overtime Jan. 2 in the Big East opener for both teams and has won eight of the last nine regular-season meetings.
Red Storm freshman reserve Felix Balamou went down with a sprained left ankle with 7:17 remaining in the first half and did not return.
Former New York Mets closer and St. John’s alum John Franco watched the game from a second-row seat.
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