VILLANOVA, Pa. — Collin Gillespie tried to keep Villanova cool heading into a rematch against a St. John’s team that pulled off a stunner in their first meeting.
“It wasn’t payback or anything like that,” he said.
It was definitely a beatdown.
Caleb Daniels scored 17 points, and Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels each had 14 to lead No. 8 Villanova to an 81-58 win over St. John’s on Tuesday night.
Teams just don’t get Villanova twice in one season.
As the Wildcats jammed home dunk after dunk and sank 3 after 3, it was hard to remember how they were so soundly shut down in a Feb. 3 loss to the Red Storm in New York. That win was the biggest yet under second-year coach Mike Anderson – the Johnnies doused him with water in a wild celebration – yet the Red Storm (14-9, 8-9 Big East) did little to build off the upset. St. John’s has lost three of four games and is looking at having to run the table in the Big East Tournament to make the NCAAs.
The Wildcats (15-3, 10-2) can smell March.
The 2016 and 2018 national champions under coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats not only came out motivated to make St. John’s pay, they seemed poised to put the sport on notice they can again be a force in the tourney.
“When you get beat like that, you’ve got to give them respect, you’ve got to learn from it and you’ve got to grow,” Wright said.
Daniels, Jeremiah-Robinson Earl (12 points) and Gillespie all hit early 3-pointers for a 20-9 lead and the Wildcats smothered the Red Storm on defense. The best way to avoid an upset is never let an underdog think it has a chance. Brandon Slater had consecutive dunks off turnovers that stretched the lead to 16.
Gillespie missed 10 of 12 shots and scored only four points in the first game against St. John’s. He hit two of Villanova’s 11 3-pointers in this one.
“He’s our heart and soul. He’s our engine,” Wright said. “He had a tough game against them last time and he comes back with great confidence. He’s not trying to do it all on his own.”
The Wildcats got a 5-minute boost from Bryan Antoine – he picked off a pass and heaved it as he fell out of bounds to Slater for one of his dunks – as the oft-injured guard is worked into the rotation. Antoine, a McDonald’s All-American, played in just two games this season as he recovered from a right shoulder injury. He underwent surgery on the shoulder in June 2019 and hurt it this season in October. Wright gave him meaningful minutes in the first half, perhaps a sign the 6-foot-5 reserve can become one more key rotation piece in the postseason.
Villanova missed five straight shots late in the first half until Daniels hit a 3 and sent the Wildcats into halftime with a 42-25 lead. Daniels hit four 3-pointers and the Wildcats were 11 of 26 overall.
“We were clicking tonight, really clicking,” Wright said.
Big East scoring leader Julian Champagnie (19.8 points per game) was invisible in the first half for St. John’s. He missed his first eight shots and finished the game with 16 points. Champagnie had 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds when the Red Storm knocked off Villanova 20 days earlier for their sixth win in seven games.
St. John’s: Perhaps the Red Storm, an 11 1/2-point underdog, could have hung on for potential at-large NCAA consideration with a sweep of the Wildcats. … Freshman guard Posh Alexander injured his right thumb in the second half.
Villanova: More of the same. The Wildcats haven’t been swept by a Big East team since 2017.
St. John’s missed 21 of 23 3-point attempts and made only 13 of 21 free throws. The Red Storm forced 16 turnovers but turned them into only seven points.
“We’re creating havoc defensively but we’re not making them pay,” Anderson said.
St. John’s hosts Providence on March 3.
Villanova plays Sunday at Butler.