PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — One down, two to go for Villanova.
Step one in Villanova’s quest for a Big East title was, as expected, an easy one. Playing an overmatched and tired St. John’s squad, the Wildcats overwhelmed the Red Storm, 108-67. The 41-point win tied a Big East Tournament record for the largest margin of victory.
In a year which included stretches that left the Villanova tank close to empty, Jay Wright’s squad came to Madison Square Garden healthy and refreshed.
Meanwhile, the Red Storm was still recovering from a hard-fought first round win over Georgetown on Wednesday night. Still, Wright knew his players had to be ready to play a full 40 minutes.
“I’m really proud of our performance,” said Wright. “I want to give St. John’s credit for the season they’ve had and last night. I think we played like a mature team today. If you’re smart and you’re experienced, you realize that team can come back with a lot of emotion and can beat you, but that team could be tired if you come ready to play.”
The Wildcats were clearly ready from the opening tip. Kris Jenkins got his team rolling by scoring the first nine Villanova points of the game. The Wildcats began to pull away early with the help of a 7-0 run.
Jenkins would hit a three-pointer at the end of the half to increase Villanova’s lead to 52-26. The Wildcats never took their foot off the gas and led by as much as 43 before the final horn.
Jenkins would finish with 24 points, one behind Donte DiVincenzo, who poured home 25 off the bench.
“I was confident going into the game,” DiVincenzo said. “The only thing I could say about the 25 is it’s all because of the seniors. Everybody was making the right play and I found myself open. Today, I was knocking down shots.”
DiVincenzo wasn’t the only Wildcat knocking down shots. Villanova hit 15 three-pointers on the day and finished at 63% from the field.
Villanova looked like the fresher team with just one game in the past eleven days. Wright also believes the return of Darryl Reynolds has made Villanova a deeper team at the right time of the season.
“It really does give us the ability to stay fresh in tournaments,” said Wright. “You can get away with playing seven guys during the season. In tournaments like this, that’s when it gets to you.”
Next up for Villanova is a semifinal matchup with Seton Hall at 6:30pm on Friday.
The Pirates upset the Wildcats in last year’s Big East Final, but you won’t hear any talk of revenge coming out of the Villanova locker room. For Josh Hart and the rest of the focused Cats, the goal is to build on their impressive victory over St. John’s.
“It’s great for our development as individuals and as a team,” Hart said. “It was good to play a full 40 minutes. We sat a couple of guys a little bit at the end. It was a great opportunity for us to just keep getting better.”