If it's close, Villanova wins

Posted: February 25, 2014

VILLANOVA HAS won in blowouts and been blown out a few times. If the game is close, these Wildcats don't lose.

It was so again Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova trailed for just 90 seconds against St. John's, but was never comfortable. Every time it looked like the 'Cats would get a working margin, the Red Storm pushed back.

Finally, Villanova played the perfect possession, a microcosm of a game that was much less art than survival. Holding on to a three-point lead with 3:20 left after a Ryan Arcidiacono banked trey, the Wildcats found a foolproof way to win - don't give up the ball. They held it for 2 minutes and scored one point.

They missed a shot, got the rebound and possession after a tie-up because the arrow pointed their way. They missed two more shots and got both rebounds. They made a free throw, missed a free throw and got the rebound before missing another free throw and, finally, not getting the rebound. St. John's was down four points when that craziness ended and could never catch up, eventually losing, 57-54.

Villanova (24-3, 12-2 Big East) is now 8-0 in games decided by seven points or less, 4-0 in overtime games.

The 'Cats won despite shooting 8-for-16 from the foul line and committing 15 turnovers. They won because Darrun Hilliard was 6-for-8, 4-for-5 from three, for 18 points. And they won because they have so many different ways to win.

This way was about defense and threes. St. John's (18-10, 8-7) shot just 19-for-59 (32.2 percent). The 'Cats were 9-for-22 from three while the Red Storm was just 3-for-11.

Vaux High's Rysheed Jordan (13 points) had his moments for St. John's. The final moments, however, were Villanova's - again.

Galloway record

During the three-point era, Saint Joseph's has had some exceptional long-range shooters - Pat Carroll, Bill Phillips, Rob Ferguson, Mark Bass, Brian Leahy. No Hawk had ever made 10 threes in a game - until senior Langston Galloway did it against Fordham at Hagan Arena.

Leahy had nine in 1988. Galloway, having a sensational final season, had 10 on the way to a career-best 33 points in the Hawks' 87-72 win. Most importantly, on a day when other teams in a similar, just-in or just-out NCAA situation, all lost (West Virginia, Tennessee, LSU, St. John's), SJU won again.

Believe it or not, since Villanova torched the Hawks by 30 on Dec. 7, the teams have identical records - 15-3. The NCAA resume similarities end there as Villanova is likely a No. 2 seed and the Hawks would be thrilled with any seed. But SJU (19-7, 9-3 Atlantic 10) is now second alone in the league, very much alive for a conference tournament bye and definitely a team that will be under consideration on Selection Sunday. The marching orders remain the same - keep winning.

The Hawks shot it brilliantly overall (59.2 percent) and from three (51.7 percent) against the Rams (9-16, 2-10), but committed too many turnovers (19). Still, when your star shooter makes 10 treys, you are not going to lose much.

Galloway now has 1,827 career points. He is about to pass Tay Jones for third in school history and, if the Hawks can make a decent postseason run, he has a shot at Bernard Blunt's 1,985. Jameer Nelson's 2,094 points are going to stand for a while.

La Salle reeling

Absolutely nobody saw this season coming for La Salle. Even after a disappointing non-conference, the Explorers were playing well enough that they looked like A-10 contenders when the conference season began. After losing at Richmond, 62-49, the Explorers (12-14, 4-8) have lost eight of nine.

It is not one thing, of course. But if you could point to one thing, it would be shooting. La Salle was 18-for-55 (32.7 percent) against the Spiders (18-10, 8-7). Tyreek Duren had a season-high 26 points, outscoring the rest of his team.

Reliable shooter Sam Mills has gone 5-for-23 during the current five-game losing streak. And Tyrone Garland's shooting numbers are way off last season's, when he shot 42.4 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three. This season, it is 34.2 percent and 23.9 percent.

Temple heartbreak

If you figured Temple's players might finally give up after they were crushed by Louisville on Valentine's Day, that would not have been unreasonable thinking. One thing you can say about this Lost Season on North Broad, nobody has given up.

Less than 48 hours after the Louisville loss, the Owls upset SMU. They played reasonably close in a Thursday late-game home loss to Connecticut. Playing late again on Saturday at Memphis, the fourth of five straight against ranked teams, the Owls lost, 82-79, in OT. If one believed in moral victories, this would have qualified, as the Owls, with just seven players (Anthony Lee was out again), had no particular business being in the game.

Temple (7-19, 2-12 American) got 67 points from Will Cummings (24), Quenton DeCosey (23) and Dalton Pepper (20). The Owls were outshot 57.4 percent to 40.5 percent, but almost won because they had 11 threes to just three for the Tigers (21-6, 10-4).

The Owls are 3-9 in games decided by six points or less. They remain so lucky that the ranked tour concludes as it started - with a Thursday game at the hottest team in the league, Louisville.

Efficient Penn

Penn got five players in double figures, scored 1.2 points per possession and beat Dartmouth, 74-65, at the Palestra.

The Quakers (7-16, 4-5 Ivy) got 18 from Tony Hicks, along with 15 and nine assists from backcourt partner Miles Jackson-Cartwright. They shot 49.1 percent overall, 6-for-14 from three, 12-for-15 from the foul line and, most importantly, committed just 11 turnovers.

Penn, under Jerome Allen, runs some excellent offense, but the turnovers have negated most of the good stuff. It is a long way back and Dartmouth (9-15, 2-8) is not going to be mistaken for Harvard (which just completed a Penn/Princeton sweep for the first time). But it was a win and a step in the right direction.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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