Against a surging St. John's team that is nationally ranked for the first time in years, #14 Villanova didn't get off to the start Jay Wright was hoping for. Steve Lavin has brought the Johnnies back to relevancy with help from senior guard Dwight Hardy, who scored at will against Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns for his career-high 34 points on the afternoon. Though Nova pulled within 1 after being down double-digits for much of the game, the road team wouldn't relinquish the lead and kept them at bay until the final horn.
Hardy was the go-to guy for Lavin, especially in crunch time, when he beat the double team and nailed a tough baseline leaner that put the Red Storm up 6 with two minutes to go. He was too quick for Nova's bigs and too strong for the guards. He'll be a huge weapon for St. John's during the Tournament at Madison Square Garden in a few weeks.
After Hardy's jumper, Nova made a few critical mistakes, including missed free throws by Mouphtaou Yarou, a crucial offensive rebound given up to Paris Horne, and then another tipped pass and forced turnover by Horne. Maalik Wayns did his best to keep them around, hitting two three-point plays within a few minutes of each other. Wright decided to foul St. John's right away, stretching out the game and allowing for more possessions, but the Red Storm didn't cooperate and confidently nailed most of their free throws to win by 13.
For Nova, Corey Stokes was on point from the outside at the Wells Fargo Center, hitting 6 of 12 three-pointers on his way to 20 points, the 7th time he's eclipsed that mark this season. Wayns added 19 on just 9 shots, getting to the line 11 times on the day. Without a good game from Fisher, however, this Nova team won't be winning many Big East matchups, either home or on the road. The smaller Corey went 0-8 from beyond the arc -- the second straight game he has put up those numbers from three-point land. His poor shooting contributed greatly to the 38% field goal percentage for Nova on the day.
Both teams remain candidates for the first round bye in the Big East Tournament with Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Notre Dame. Big props have to go to Steve Lavin for bringing this team out of no-man's land and making them a dangerous tournament club. This will certainly drop the Wildcats in the rankings, but probably not out of them entirely. They face the Irish in South Bend on Monday night.