Donte DiVincenzo scored 25 points, sinking a career-high six 3-pointers, and No. 1 Villanova fought off a gritty challenge from St. John’s in a 78-71 Big East win Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Mikal Bridges finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats, who relied on their defense to knock off the Red Storm for the 13th straight time -- despite a huge performance from St. John’s star Shamorie Ponds.
Ponds exploded for 37 points to lead St John’s (10-8, 0-6 Big East), which has lost seven in a row.
Villanova (16-1, 4-1) got off to a sluggish, sloppy start. The Wildcats hit only two of their first 10 3-point attempts and found themselves trailing late in the first half. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson made 3-pointers in the final three minutes as Villanova closed out the first half with a 13-4 run and took a 34-27 lead into halftime.
The Wildcats maintained the advantage throughout the second half, but couldn’t slam the door on the Red Storm until the final minute.
DiVincenzo drained a 3-pointer from the corner to push the Villanova lead to 69-58 with four minutes to play.
St. John’s mounted one last rally, with Ponds capping a 7-0 run with a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 69-65 with one minute left. He shot 15 of 28 from the floor but 0 of 6 beyond the 3-point arc.
Ponds was the only St. John’s player to reach double figures in points. Bashir Ahmed and Justin Simon each finished with seven points.
Villanova made seven consecutive free throws in the final minute, and Bridges dunked to finish off the scrappy Red Storm.
Villanova has bounced back from its only loss of the season, at Butler on Dec. 30, with three straight wins. The Wildcats continue a stretch of three straight road games at Georgetown on Wednesday.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Red Storm, who travel to No. 10 Xavier on Wednesday.
--Field Level Media