Kris Jenkins' 14 points and 11 rebounds in absence of Daniel Ochefu aided Villanova in 68-53 win at St. John's. (Photo courtesy of CSN Philly)
NEW YORK -- Coming off an overtime loss against Providence, coupled with the absence of Daniel Ochefu, Villanova knew rebounding would be essential to their effort on Sunday as they faced a scrappy St. John's team in search of their first conference win.
What they received on the boards this afternoon ended up going a long way.
Without Ochefu, who suffered a concussion in practice leading up to the game, the sixth-ranked Wildcats (18-3, 8-1 Big East) picked up double-doubles from Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart en route to a 48-35 drubbing of St. John's (7-15, 0-9) on the glass that helped secure a 68-53 victory at Madison Square Garden.
"Going into every game, I try to focus on rebounding," said Jenkins, who scored 14 points and tied Hart for a game-high 11 caroms. "Today, I was able to get to a lot more because Danny usually grabs most of the rebounds, so with him being out, (it was) next guy up. Today, I was able to make my way to a couple more rebounds."
Villanova had chances to assert themselves early and often on the boards, which they did throughout the day, particularly in a stretch where St. John's came away empty-handed on one possession after another early in the second half, missing seven straight shots at one point.
"We had empty possessions for like eight minutes," said Ron Mvouika, who posted 11 points and 10 rebounds in what becomes the 12th-straight loss for the Red Storm since their December 13 upset over Syracuse. "We were giving balls away, and against a team like that, they're going to make us pay. That's what they did, they made us pay. I thought we played great defense, but we had that little lapse that cost us the game."
St. John's turned the ball over 21 times against Villanova, but the Wildcats were prone to miscues as well, committing 20 of their own and leaving Jay Wright flummoxed as to how a team that is usually adept at ball handling could struggle in that area.
"It's really surprising," Wright would say in regard to the turnover woes. "I honestly don't have an answer for it. We're usually really good with the ball. It's not even on pressing that much, it's sloppy play. We've got to tighten that up. That will kill us in the end, and it really killed us in the Providence game, (January 24) it really did."
Amid the confounding issues with ball control, the Wildcats did get several bright spots, particularly up front as Ochefu sat out. While Wright said his all-Big East forward would be reevaluated, he took the time to praise Darryl Reynolds, who collected nine rebounds in 29 minutes as Ochefu's replacement in the starting lineup.
"This was a valuable game for us," the coach assessed, "because it got Darryl Reynolds meaningful minutes. There's nothing more meaningful than knowing you're starting, you're the only big guy, you can't get into foul trouble. He picked up a foul early, and he was able to play and only pick up one more foul and still be effective."
In the opposing locker room, the focus centered on playing a complete game, but the optimism that has brightened a long season in Queens has still not wavered.
"We're going to break through," a confident Mvouika assuredly stated. "I think when we're locked in and we play great together, we can play with anybody. We just have to find a way to finish games and close out games, not play for 30 minutes, 25 minutes, 35. We've got to play 40, because those eight minutes today killed us."
"I want to win every single game," Red Storm head coach Chris Mullin admitted. "I also know that if you want to win, you've got to pay the price. It's not a short-term fix, and it's not supposed to be easy. When this team turns around, it's going to be much more sweeter when it does happen, and it will. I know it will."