- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) - Dante DiVincenzo, half of No. 3 Villanova’s bench, came up with a career game when the starters needed a pick me up.

The Wildcats were missing 3-point attempts and getting outhustled by St. John’s. It wasn’t Big East preseason player of the year Josh Hart or national championship game hero Kris Jenkins or Jalen Brunson, considered one of the better point guards in the country who rallied the Wildcats. It was DiVincenzo, a redshirt freshman guard.

Hart spoke of the two-man bench of DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall.

“Those guys play starter’s minutes and those guys are not looked at in this program by anybody as bench players,” Hart said. “They are a key to this team.”

DiVincenzo had a season-high 19 points and Villanova pulled away to a 70-57 victory over St. John’s on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

“He’s doing everything we ask, playing the 1 and 2 and 3, rebounding, defending,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “I think he can be a Josh Hart. I really do. What has always impressed me about Josh is he does everything. He’s a complete player and I can see Dante being that.”

Mikal Bridges had 12 points and Hart added 11 for the Wildcats (17-1, 5-1 Big East), who started the season with a 14-game winning streak. The defending national champions have won 23 of their last 24 games.

Freshman Shamorie Ponds had 13 points for the Red Storm (8-11, 2-4), who have lost four straight overall and 10 in a row to Villanova.

“We played the good the first half and they attacked us in the second half,” Ponds said. “They punched us and we couldn’t recover from the punch they gave us.”

Villanova, which plays just a seven-man rotation, had trouble shooting early in the game, missing eight of its first nine 3-point attempts. DiVincenzo changed that by making three of the Wildcats’ 21 3-point attempts in the game.

“I didn’t come in thinking I had to hit 3s,” DiVincenzo said. “I had some shots but the main to do was rebound and play defense and do what I could to help the team.”

The Wildcats didn’t start pulling away until the final 7 minutes. A 7-0 run capped by a 3 by Jenkins gave Villanova a 60-48 lead with 4:56 to play.

The lead got as high as 17 points.

Villanova finished with a 41-23 rebound advantage but the Wildcats had an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers that the Red Storm turned into 20 points.

“This was an example of a young hungry team playing harder than a veteran team,” Wright said. “They wanted it more and I was disappointed with our effort and impressed with theirs. Twenty turnovers can be attributed to St. John’s toughness and aggressiveness.”

St. John’s had just three offensive rebounds in the game while the Wildcats had 13.

“We never got any offensive rhythm,” St. john’s coach Chris Mullin said. “We played some good defense but didn’t grab any rebounds and not getting rebounds and getting out in the open floor hurt us.”

BIG PICTURE:

Villanova: Phil Booth (left knee) has played three games this season and none since Nov. 17, and there is no time table for his return. The junior guard was a key player in Villanova’s run to the national championship last season. … The Wildcats entered the game ranked in the top four in the Big East in every offensive statistic. … Villanova lost its last game at Madison Square Garden, the Big East Tournament championship to Seton Hall.

St. John’s: The freshmen backcourt of Ponds (17.5) and Marcus LoVett (17.6) are second in the Big East in combined scoring behind only Seton Hall’s Khadeen Carrington (18.9) and Desi Rodriguez (16.4). … Ponds and LoVett only trail Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox (16.7) and Malik Monk (21.7) among freshmen guard combinations in Division I. … The Red Storm have two three-game winning streaks and one two-game streak to account for their eight wins.

CROWDED GARDEN:

The game drew a crowd of 17,309 to Madison Square Garden.

UP NEXT:

Villanova: The Wildcats host Seton Hall on Monday as part of the Big East’s five-game marathon on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

St. John’s: The Red Storm host DePaul on Monday as part of the Big East’s five-game marathon on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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