Samuels scores 32, leads No. 3 Villanova over Georgetown

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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VILLANOVA, Pa. — Jermaine Samuels and Villanova bounced back in a big way.

Samuels scored a career-high 32 points to lead No. 3 Villanova to an 84-74 victory over Georgetown on Sunday.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl added 14 points and Collin Gillespie had 12 for the Wildcats (12-2, 7-1 Big East), who rebounded from a loss at St. John’s.

Samuels, who had two points in 25 minutes against St. John’s, made 10 of 17 shots overall and 6 of 7 from 3-point range.

“I didn’t have the game I wanted,” Samuels said of Wednesday’s performance. “It was getting back to our Villanova habits, coming out and executing. It wasn’t just about the offense.”

Samuels added six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

“He came out with a fierce focus,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “He did so many little things tonight.”

Jahvon Blair scored 18 points and Qudus Wahab had 17 for Georgetown (5-9, 3-6).

“This was a game we had an opportunity to win,” Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing said. “They’re a good team, very well coached, but we were right there.”

Georgetown took its last lead on Blair’s 3-pointer with 5:46 to play that made it 67-66. After a pair of free throws by Justin Moore gave Villanova a 72-69 advantage, Wahab’s two-handed dunk attempt went long off the back rim. Caleb Daniels drained a 3 on the Wildcats’ ensuing possession and Villanova was its way to its 10th win in 11 games.

Wright liked the way his team responded after its worst performance of the season.

“There are certain things in the St. John’s game I can’t explain, Jermaine being one,” Wright said. “We have talented, humble players that assess their performance honestly and don’t make excuses. We got our butts beat. We looked at it, and we took responsibility.”

Unlike the first contest on Dec. 11, when Georgetown led by as many as 18 points in the opening half before losing 76-63, it was Villanova that jumped out to a double-digit first-half advantage. Samuels’ 3-pointer with 8:50 left in the half made it 30-20.

But Georgetown clawed back, outscoring the Wildcats 15-3 over the next six minutes to go up 35-33 on Chudier Bile’s reverse layup. Villanova scored four of the final six before the break to enter the locker room ahead 37-35.

SCHEDULE SHIFT

Villanova originally was scheduled to host Xavier on Sunday, but that game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Musketeers’ program. Ewing jumped at the opportunity to bump up the game, which had been scheduled for Feb. 17.

“Who knows what’s going to happen next week?” he said. “I’d rather get the game in.”

EVEN UP

Sunday’s matchup was the 88th between the longtime Big East rivals, and the Wildcats’ victory evened the series at 44 wins apiece.

BIG PICTURE

Georgetown: After a three-week pause due to COVID-19, the Hoyas entered Sunday on a two-game winning streak, rebounding from a 3-8 start to beat Providence on Jan. 30 and No. 15 Creighton on Wednesday.

Ewing said the break gave Georgetown a chance to regroup. He said the Hoyas are finally clicking – and the coach has been getting the recipe right.

“I keep always talking about how I am the chef and I’m in there cooking up the gumbo,” he said before the game. “Well, the gumbo is finally starting to taste right. I’m putting in all the right ingredients right now for that gumbo to taste right.”

Villanova: After the 70-59 loss at St. John’s, the Wildcats likely will drop a few spots in the AP Top 25 when the new poll is released Monday. Wright said that defeat is just a chance for Villanova to get better, something the Wildcats proved against the Hoyas.

UP NEXT

Georgetown: Hosts Creighton on Tuesday night.

Villanova: Hosts Marquette on Wednesday night.

St. John’s shuts down No. 3 Villanova in 70-59 upset

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Freshman guard Posh Alexander and his pumped-up teammates doused Mike Anderson with water after their biggest win yet under the second-year St. John’s coach.

Just outside Carnesecca Arena, students cheered so loudly from their dorms that jubilant players could hear them in the locker room.

It was that kind of night for the suddenly surging Red Storm.

“I let them see another side of me,” a smiling Anderson said.

Alexander scored 16 points and St. John’s smothered No. 3 Villanova, upsetting the ice-cold Wildcats 70-59 on Wednesday to halt their nine-game winning streak.

Julian Champagnie had 14 points – all in the second half – and a career-high 13 rebounds for the rising Red Storm (12-7, 6-6 Big East), who have won five straight games and six of seven.

This one, Champagnie said, showed they are “a legit team.”

And now, maybe one with a legit shot at an NCAA Tournament push.

Flashing quick and active hands all over the court, St. John’s turned up its pressure defense and hounded the experienced Wildcats (11-2, 6-1) into 17 turnovers and 32% shooting in an ugly performance.

“I thought our defense was the catalyst,” Anderson said. “It was the Johnnies’ night.”

Villanova was held 12 points below its previous season low for its first loss since Nov. 28 to Virginia Tech in overtime. The Wildcats went nearly four weeks between games because of coronavirus issues before returning with a Jan. 19 win over Seton Hall.

“I think the press was what we expected. I think our response was what I didn’t expect,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They really took us out of what we wanted to do.”

St. John’s has been a surprising thorn in Villanova’s side recently, with wins over a top-ranked Wildcats team in February 2018 and against the defending national champions in 2019.

The latest victory gave St. John’s its first four-game Big East winning streak since the 2014-15 NCAA Tournament team. Three of the wins have come on the road, too.

Alexander, who plays with a relentless frenzy and leads the Big East in steals, added six assists, four rebounds and three thefts.

“He had a phenomenal night,” Anderson said. “He plays all out, both ends of the floor.”

Alexander dominated his critical matchup with senior star Collin Gillespie, who was 0 for 8 from 3-point range and committed six turnovers in a forgettable four-point performance.

With a little under seven minutes left, Alexander stripped Gillespie at midcourt and coasted in for an uncontested dunk that gave St. John’s its largest lead at 58-41.

Gillespie entered with 12 turnovers all season while playing 35 minutes per game and averaging 15.5 points. The Wildcats came in averaging only 8.3 turnovers, best in the country.

St. John’s, third in the nation at 9.9 steals per game, finished with eight and also blocked seven shots to help produce an 18-8 edge in fast-break points.

It felt like more.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 14 points and 17 rebounds for Villanova. Caleb Daniels scored 16.

“They’re a really good team. I don’t think their record does them justice,” Robinson-Earl said. “They play really hard. … They were a really tough team defensively.”

Villanova scored the first seven points of the game, but St. John’s opened the second half with a 15-4 blitz to build a 14-point lead with 13:30 remaining.

STRANGE SURROUNDINGS

The pandemic has put all St. John’s home games on campus with no fans permitted, so this marked the first time Villanova played at 5,602-seat Carnesecca Arena since January 1994. The teams normally meet at Madison Square Garden, where St. John’s usually plays many of its high-profile games. Villanova is the most frequent opponent in program history.

Wright recalled visiting as a Villanova assistant and watching high school playoff games in the building. He talked to his team about what to expect.

“These guys, I didn’t even know if they knew where it was or anything,” Wright recounted Tuesday. “So I said, `Just so you know, we’re going into a tough, tight arena that they press in and they can make it really tough for you. I don’t want you being surprised when we don’t roll up to The Garden.”‘

Villanova was the first top-5 opponent to play in the Queens gym since St. John’s lost 72-71 to No. 2 Syracuse in February 1980, the first season of the original Big East. The last time St. John’s beat a top-3 team on campus, Sonny Dove had 28 points and 24 rebounds in a 1966 win over No. 3 Saint Joseph’s during Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca’s first season at the helm.

SCHEDULE SHUFFLE

Villanova was supposed to host Xavier on Sunday, but that game was postponed Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues in the Musketeers’ program and replaced Wednesday with a home game against Georgetown that had been slated for Feb. 17.

Wright acknowledged Tuesday that coach Mark Few of top-ranked Gonzaga, also freed up this weekend and eager to test his West Coast Conference team, had called about potentially setting up a No. 1 vs. No. 3 showdown on Super Bowl Sunday.

“Oh, definitely. He does all the time. He’s the master scheduler,” Wright said. “But I told him, I said: `Our priority has to be the Big East first. If we can get a Big East game, we’ve got to play the Big East game. We owe it to the Big East.”‘

WELCOME BACK

St. John’s has taken off despite a back injury to starting guard Greg Williams Jr. that caused him to miss the previous three games and nearly all of the past five. Williams, who was averaging 10.9 points per game, came off the bench in the first half and threw down a one-handed, fast-break dunk with authority to the delight of his teammates. But he tweaked his back, Anderson said, and those were the only points for Williams in four minutes on the court.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Tries to bounce back and earn a season sweep of Georgetown after a 76-63 road victory on Dec. 11.

St. John’s: Saturday at Providence, which has won nine of the past 11 meetings.

Hoyas ride hot shooting to 86-79 upset of No. 15 Creighton

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
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OMAHA, Neb. — Georgetown followed up what had been its biggest win of the season with an even bigger one.

Jahvon Blair scored 22 points to lead four Hoyas in double figures, and Georgetown used its best shooting in weeks to build a quick lead and beat No. 15 Creighton 86-79 on Wednesday night.

The Hoyas’ win, which came four nights after they rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Providence 73-72, was their first on the road this season. Creighton was the highest-ranked opponent coach Patrick Ewing has beaten in his four seasons.

“I’m not sure if it was my best win, but I loved it,” Ewing said. “We beat a ranked team, a great team, and they’re very well-coached and we didn’t back down. They made runs at us but we didn’t let go of the rope. We kept on fighting and were able to come away with a huge win on the road.”

Georgetown (5-8, 3-5 Big East), a 13-point underdog, was playing its second game following a three-week layoff because of a COVID-19 outbreak. The break allowed the Hoyas to reset their season after a 2-8 start.

“I just think we exhaled,” Ewing said.

Georgetown entered the game as the second-worst shooting team in the Big East. The Hoyas hit 50% from the field, their best mark since Dec. 13 against St. John’s, and were 10 for 21 on 3s.

“I thought everybody did something positive to help us win, and hopefully this will be a signature win for us,” Ewing said. “One of the things I talked to them about before the game is we had a great game versus Providence and we needed to continue to build on that, and I think we did that tonight.”

Creighton (13-5, 9-4) had won three straight, but the Bluejays were not sharp in any of them. They turned in another unpolished performance, and this time they couldn’t overcome it.

“We self-destructed,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said. “We had 15 turnovers. We don’t turn it over, and Georgetown isn’t a team that forces a lot of turnovers. We didn’t have an answer for them defensively. We’ve been a pretty good team defensively and tonight that wasn’t the case.”

Blair made five 3-pointers, the biggest coming with 1:34 left when he banked one in from the wing as the shot clock was about to expire. That put the Hoyas up 79-70.

“Hey, look, any way I can get it I’m going to take it,” Ewing said. “It was a great shot, a tough shot. Jahvon is one of our best shooters and I’m just happy it went in.”

Chudier Bile had 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Jamorko Pickett had four 3s and finished with 16 points. Qudus Wahab added 12 points.

Denzel Mahoney led the Bluejays with 22 points. Mitch Ballock added 16 points and Christian Bishop and Marcus Zegarowski had 14 apiece.

The Bluejays rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit to tie it at 44 on Zegarowski’s 3 early in the second half. Blair’s 3 the next trip down the court put the Hoyas ahead again, and they were up 67-57 on Bile’s steal and layup.

Bishop converted Zegarowski’s pass into a reverse dunk to pull the Bluejays within 72-66 and force Ewing to call a timeout with 4:39 left. The Bluejays got no closer.

BIG PICTURE

Georgetown: The Hoyas are playing their best ball of the season. They never trailed after the first six minutes while ending a five-game losing streak against AP Top 25 opponents. The Hoyas won for the first time in five road games and beat the Bluejays in Omaha for the first time in six tries.

Creighton: The Bluejays shot under 50% for the fifth time in six games and Georgetown converted their 15 turnovers in 19 points.

PINK OUT

The Bluejays wore white uniforms with pink trim and themed warmup tops for their 11th annual Pink Out. Those items and others were sold at a fan auction that raised $40,381 for breast cancer research. Creighton’s Pink Outs have raised more than $300,000 since starting in 2011. McDermott’s wife, Theresa, is a breast cancer survivor.

3-POINT STREAK

The Bluejays extended their streak of making at least one 3-pointer to 900 games. The last time they didn’t have a 3-point field goal was Feb. 20, 1993, against Illinois State.

UP NEXT

Georgetown visits No. 3 Villanova on Sunday.

Creighton visits Marquette on Saturday.

Paige Bueckers shoots UConn to 94-62 win over St. John’s

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — Injuries forced UConn coach Geno Auriemma to start three freshmen on Wednesday, and the young Huskies were happy to show their coach what the future holds.

Paige Bueckers scored a season-high 32 points, Aaliyah Edwards also set a season best with 22 and No. 3 Connecticut beat St. John’s 94-62 as the schools renewed their Big East rivalry.

Bueckers hit 13 of 20 shots, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, and topped 20 points for the third straight game. She also dished out seven assists.

Edwards was 9 of 11 from the floor and pulled down nine rebounds for the Huskies (12-1, 10-0), who have played the required 13 games needed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Nika Muhl added 11 points and six assists.

At one point in the third quarter UConn had five freshmen on the floor, adding Mir McLean (seven points, four rebounds, three assists) and Saylor Poffenbarger, who joined the Huskies last month after graduating high school early.

“They looked like they knew what they were doing and Paige looked like their ring leader,” Auriemma said. “They seemed to have some fun out there and played some, really, really good minutes.”

St. John’s Leilani Correa fell two points shy of her career high, putting up 33 to lead the Red Storm (5-10, 2-8).

The Huskies played without guard Christyn Williams (16.8 points per game), who sat with a left ankle injury and sophomore Aubrey Griffin played just two minutes after banging her right knee in practice.

“Obviously Christyn, her being a big scoring threat, having her out, I knew I had to step it up a little big more,” Bueckers said.

UConn opened the game on a 10-2 run, with six points from Edwards, who got open early and often in the lane. The Huskies led 22-12 after 10 minutes, closing the first quarter on a 9-0 run.

St. John’s shot 50% from the floor, including 52% in the first half, but trailed 44-24 at intermission.

“We need to play better defensively, that’s the reason why we were down,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “We didn’t defend, rebound or take one free throw.”

Bueckers, who hit her first five shots from the floor, had 18 first-half points.

BIG PICTURE

St. John’s: The Red Storm’s leading scorer, Qadashah Hoppie, recently had shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the season. The injury limited her to eight games, where she averaged 18 points and was shooting 40% from 3-point range.

UConn: Bueckers 32 points were the most by a UConn freshman since Tina Charles set the record with 34 against South Florida in 2007. … Williams tested her ankle about an hour before the game but did not come back out with her team for final warmups.

STATS OF THE NIGHT

UConn had 27 assists on 35 baskets and scored 37 points off of 27 St. John’s turnovers.

HE SAID IT

Auriemma on playing the minimum number of games needed to be considered for the NCAA Tournament in a year where games are constantly being postponed or cancelled due to issues related to COVID-19.

“It may be real easy to pick the teams that are in the NCAA Tournament; just pick how many teams get to 13,” he said. “We’re one of them, so I hope they have us on the list.”

HISTORY

This was the Huskies first game against St. John’s in Gampel since losing to the Red Storm 57-56 in 2012. That was the last time an unranked team has defeated the Huskies.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies head to Milwaukee for a game with Marquette on Friday night.

St. John’s: The Red Storm are not scheduled to play again before hosting DePaul on Feb. 10.

No. 3 UConn bounces back, rolls by No. 17 DePaul 100-67

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — Christyn Williams scored a career-high 29 points, Paige Bueckers added 22 points and personal-best 10 assists, and No. 3 UConn bounced back from a rare loss to beat No. 17 DePaul 100-67 on Sunday afternoon.

The Huskies (11-1, 9-0 Big East) haven’t dropped consecutive games in 28 years. And they weren’t about to let it happen this time, after losing at No. 19 Arkansas on Thursday.

UConn used a dominant second quarter to build a 14-point halftime lead. The Huskies remained in control the rest of the way and improved to 19-1 all-time against DePaul (9-4, 6-2) – 19-0 under Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma.

“It’s just lousy playing basketball this time in their lives,” Auriemma said. “There’s nothing to get excited about. This is just glorified practice, except you’re playing against another team. There’s no crowd. There’s no energy. People think, `Well, what’s the difference?’ It’s a huge difference. Basketball is meant to be played with the emotion of the game.

“These games that I see are devoid of emotion, so you have to create your own,” he said. “And I thought we did that today.”

Williams made 12 of 15 shots. Bueckers nailed a personal-best 5 of 7 3-pointers. The star freshman also had seven rebounds and just one turnover.

Evina Westbrook scored 12 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. The Huskies shot about 58% and finished six points shy of their season high in a matchup between two of the nation’s most prolific scoring teams.

Sonya Morris scored 19 for DePaul, which had won four in a row since a loss at UConn. Lexi Held added 16 points.

GETTING IN GEAR

Auriemma would like to see better, more aggressive starts. It’s been an issue, and the Huskies again were a bit sluggish in the early stages.

UConn trailed by as much as seven in the first quarter. But the Huskies sure turned things around in a big way in the second. They outscored the Blue Demons 29-11 in the period to take a 47-33 lead.

“I thought we got the ball moving more,” Williams said. “We were aggressive in everything that we were doing.”

DePaul was ahead 29-28 when UConn went on a 10-0 run, capped by Buecker’s 3 with 3:44 remaining. Bueckers also nailed a 3 in the closing seconds in the half, and Westbrook stole the inbounds, leading to a free throw that made it a 14-point game.

“Everybody that played had a really good day,” Auriemma said. “They did the things that come within the course of the game. Nobody tried to do more. Nobody did less. They just did what came within the course of the game.”

BIG PICTURE

UConn: Make it 1,005 games without consecutive losses for the Huskies. The last time they dropped back-to-back outings? March 7 and 17, 1993, when they lost to Providence in the Big East tournament and Louisville in the NCAA. “That’s not something that crossed my mind,” Williams said. “We’re just staying focused and taking it game by game. Of course, we don’t want to lose two in a row. …We don’t really pay attention to the streaks and stuff like that.”

DePaul: Playing their first game in 10 days, the Blue Demons went cold after a solid start. They shot about 36% and were 8 for 26 on 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies will try to make it back-to-back wins when they host St. John’s on Wednesday.

DePaul: The Blue Demons visit Seton Hall on Thursday.

No. 3 Villanova rolls to 9th straight, handles Seton Hall

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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NEWARK, N.J. — Even when No. 3 Villanova went up by 16 points in the second half, Jay Wright never felt comfortable against Seton Hall.

The two longtime Big East rivals have played nothing but close games lately and the Wildcats coach had a feeling the Pirates had a run in them. It was one of the few things he was wrong about this season.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 23 points in a foul-plagued 21 minutes and Villanova rolled to ninth straight victory with an unexpectedly easy 80-72 decision over Seton Hall on Saturday.

“I didn’t think of this one as not being one of the close ones because I know how good they are and I know they can always make a run at us,” Wright said. “So the history of this rivalry is such that you just you never, ever feel comfortable, you know? And I definitely felt that way tonight.”

Jermaine Samuels added 17 points and Justin Moore had 16, while Collin Gillespie had 11 points and a career-high 11 assists.

The Wildcats (11-1, 6-0 Big East) built a double-digit lead midway through the first half and were really never threatened in handing Seton Hall (9-8, 6-5) its third straight loss to a ranked opponent.

Robinson-Earl finished 8 of 12 from the field and hit all five of his free throws. He missed 14 minutes in the second half after picking up his third and fourth fouls early, but returned for the final three minutes and scored six points to seal the win.

“He scored 23 points, but he is so good defensively and he’s the centerpiece of our defense,” Wright said. “He can guard any position, but he also communicates out there. He’s always talking. So that’s what we really missed when he was out.”

Shevar Reynolds had 13 points and Jaren Rhoden, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Myles Cale all scored 12 points for Seton Hall. The last five games between the Pirates and Wildcats had been decided by an average of 3.2 points.

The Pirates’ previous two losses overall were close. They endured a crushing last-second setback to Villanova on Jan. 19. It was followed by a four-point loss to No. 17 Creighton on Wednesday in a game the Hall blew a 16-point second-half lead.

This one was decided in the opening 13 minutes. With the game tied at 9, the Wildcats went on a 16-3 burst that featured five points apiece by Robinson-Earl and Moore.

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard was disappointed.

“I know we didn’t play good, but the loss the other night was tough,” Willard said of the Creighton game. “I thought we played hard, did some good things, but we had a hard time mentally getting going early in the game. Against a good team like Villanova, they’re just going to keep attacking.”

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: This was a methodical victory by a smart team. Everyone contributed on both ends of the court despite the team playing only its third game this month. A game earlier this week was postponed by COVID issues with the officials.

Seton Hall: The Pirates have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but have not posted a signature victory that might convince people they belong in the NCAA Tournament.

LONG RANGE DEFENSE

Villanova hit 10 3-pointers in the game. In its loss to Creighton earlier this week, the Pirates gave up 17 from long range.

“I would call it terrible, and that’s an improvement from horrific the other night,” Willard said. “It’s mind-boggling. We’re doing a lot of good things. We’re in position and we’re just having little breakdowns at really bad times with the wrong guys. That kills you against really good teams.”

UP NEXT

Villanova: at St. John’s on Wednesday.

Seton Hall: at Providence on Wednesday.