NEW YORK -- Villanova gave away a 12-point first-half lead before rallying back from a three-point second-half deficit to beat St. John’s 66-53 Wednesday night in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
If there were any doubt before, there’s none now that Villanova will return to the NCAA tournament this year after missing it last year for the first time since 2004. Villanova will find out officially on Sunday.
Senior Mouphtaou Yarou made his first seven shots and finished 9-for-10 from the field for 18 points along with six rebounds. The other Wildcats shot a combined 13-for-44 from the field.
Villanova led 18-6 after 10 ½ minutes, but St. John’s went on a 23-8 run that lasted into early in the second half before the Wildcats recovered.
Villanova led 40-38 with 10:15 left in the game before taking command with a 10-2 run that built the lead up to 10 at 50-40.
St. John’s got no closer than five the rest of the way.
Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half and added six rebounds and five assists. JayVaughn Pinkston added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Villanova held the Red Storm without a field goal from the 7:12 mark of the second half until just 64 seconds remained in the game. By then, Nova was up by 14.
What it means
Villanova improved to 20-12 after going 13-19 last year. St. John’s fell to 16-15 with its fifth straight loss. Since the Big East tournament started in 1983, 96 percent of 20-win teams have received NCAA bids.
This was the first time Villanova had faced St. John’s in the Big East tourney in 13 years, since a 75-70 loss in 2000 and the first time the Wildcats have beaten the Red Storm in the Big East tourney since 1990, when they won 70-60.
Villanova made one foul shot in the game’s first 27 ½ minutes and then made 18 in the final 12 ½ minutes.
Villanova led 40-38 with 10:15 left in the game when the Wildcats scored five quick points on a Pinkston slam and a three-point play by Anthony Chennault on a goaltend, foul and free throw to open up some breathing room.
By the numbers
Sophomore guard Phil Green led St. John’s with 14 points on 6-for-15 from the field and Sampson added 13. … Villanova shot just 3-for-17 from three. … St. John’s had just seven assists on 21 baskets.
Villanova advanced to the Big East quarterfinals and will face No. 2 seed Louisville at 7 p.m. Thursday. Villanova upset Louisville 73-64 at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 22.
Fourth-ranked Louisville, 26-5, drew a double-bye in the tournament and goes into Thursday on a seven-game winning streak.