In a game that saw Villanova get back to its gritty roots, they were able to outlast St. John's in overtime, 79-76. St. John's is not a great team, but it is significant in that it's Villanova's first win on the road, giving them their first winning streak since November 24.
Even more encouraging is that Villanova didn't do it with a rare, hot shooting performance. In fact, they were especially bad. The Wildcats shot 39 percent from the field, 25 percent from three and just 58 percent from the foul line.
So no, they didn't do it by hitting shots. They did it by playing Villanova basketball. They played tough defense. They were scrappy rebounders. Most important, they never quit.
St. John's was on a tear for most of the second half. After starting the game 9-of-28, they hit 20 of their final 32 attempts from the field. Trailing by a score of 60-50 with 6:29 remaining, Villanova dug in on defense and clawed their way back on offense.
Villanova grinded out a 13-3 run over the next 4:35 to tie the game at 63-apiece. Each team scored four more points to send it to overtime. It was in the extra session where Villanova hit some timely shots.
Maalik Wayns carried the load once again, scoring 28 points and adding three assists. But the story was his supporting cast once again.
Despite the poor shooting, Villanova put three other scorers in double figures. Dominic Cheek scored 20 points and added seven rebounds. He shot just 5-of-15 from the field, but he scored 10 of their last 20 points.
Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston continued his coming-out party with a second straight double-double. He scored 13 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Sophomore James Bell chipped in 10 points and six rebounds.
Villanova was able to keep pace with relentless offensive rebounding. They pulled down 24 rebounds on the offensive end, tallying 19 second-chance points.
If the Wildcats can continue playing with this type of effort and aggression, they can expect to make a run in Big East play. Jay Wright has gotten the message through to his young team, and they are playing their best basketball of the season.
They are not likely to make the NCAA Tournament, but they can give any Big East foe a long night. Wayns is establishing himself as one of the conference's best players, and the rest of the team is starting to follow his lead.
Next week is another big test, as Villanova plays at Louisville and hosts Marquette. It is a chance to establish themselves as a true threat. It's starting to look like they may just salvage this season yet.
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