By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
NEW YORK – On the opening day of the 1999 Big East Tournament, Al Skinner and the Boston College Eagles limped into the postseason with a 3-15 conference record and a cellar-dwelling 13th seed for the weekend. In the third game of the day, BC ran into a buzzsaw that was the Jim Boeheim-coached Syracuse Orange and lost 96-55, a then conference record-setting margin. Today, Chris Mullin, the coach of the St. John’s University Red Storm, found out just how Skinner felt that March day.
Coach Jay Wright and Donte DiVincenzo
The Villanova Wildcats, fully rested since their March 4 win at Georgetown to close their conference schedule with a 15-3 record, cruised to a 41-point victory over St. John’s today, winning 108-67. The 108 points set a Villanova team record for points while the Wildcats shot at a team record pace in the tourney, 36-for-57 (.632). Villanova redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo scored a career-high 25 points to pace ‘Nova as they defeated St. John’s for the 12th straight time, and 18th of the last 19 games in their series, the oldest in the conference as it dates back to 1923.
Mullin’s Red Storm team suffered from obvious fatigue after their opening round victory, an intense 74-73 win over longtime rival Georgetown that included some old-fashioned jousting between Mullin and the Georgetown Hoyas’ bench and assistant coach Patrick Ewing Jr., son od Mullin’s 1980s rival, Patrick Sr.
“I want to give St. John’s credit for the season they’ve had and last night,” noted Villanova head coach Jay Wright in his postgame remarks. “They did a hell of a job last night but that was a pretty beat-up team, a tired team that we played. I thought the game they played last night was a gutsy, old-Big east game and it was pretty cool to watch.”
That viewpoint offered little solace to St. John’s who ended their season with a 14-19 record with no hope of any postseason play for the second consecutive year of Mullin’s collegiate coaching career. St. John’s finished 7-11 in the Big East Conference this season after winning only one of 18 games a year ago and finishing 2015-16 8-24.
“Yeah, improvement. Progression, individually and collectively,” said Mullin when asked about the take-aways from his second season as coach of his alma mater. “And, lots to look forward to,” he added. “I think, defensively, we need to improve. I do think a lot of that will come with strength and maturity. I think, like a lot of people, the players can improve n the offseason. That’s the best time to do it.
“When they’re in summer school and around each other, working out in the summertime, it’s a really good time to develop team chemistry.”
Wright and Villanova now move to the semifinals of the annual Big East tournament and, most likely, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA East Regional tournament which begins next Tuesday with the Opening Round play but goes full-throttle a week from today.
Aside from DiVincenzo’s career game, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins scored 24 points on 8-of-18 FG shooting, 5-of-13 from three-point land. Josh Hart, the potential collegiate Player of the Year, added 15-points, six rebounds and five assists in 25 minutes of playing time. Villanova has six players score in double figures. They will play Seton Hall in the 6:30pm et semifinal game Friday.
NOTES: Villanova committed zero personal fouls in the first half of the game and only seven for the entire game while St. John’s had 18 personals … The difference resulted in Villanova scoring 21-of-25 from the free throw line while St. John’s shot 4-of-9 … Villanova played a zone defense part of the game, and the free throw difference was not a result of officiating … Their first foul occurred at the 18:18 mark of the second half. … Villanova is now 19-14 in BIG EAST quarterfinal games while St. John’s is 11-12, making their first quarterfinal appearance since 2011. … St. John’s has 23 quarterfinal appearances over the 35 years of the tourney, a tribute to their early years of conference play. … St. John’s and Villanova are 4-4 when facing each other in the Big East tourney.