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Down two starters, 'Nova loses to St. John's

02/08/2018, 12:30am EST
By Austin Petoillo & Josh Verlin

Eric Paschall (above) is expected to miss at least a week with a concussion suffered earlier this week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Austin Petolillo (@AustinPSports) &
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Villanova has shown this season that it can overcome injuries.

With players such as Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and most recently Phil Booth all missing an extended period of time, Villanova has still showed a display of dominance on their opponents even without key players.

But before their game against a St. John’s team that was 0-11 in the Big East night, they got some good news and some bad news.

The good news was that after missing 10 games due to a broken hand, the Wildcats were getting Samuels back into the rotation. The bad news was that starting redshirt junior forward Eric Paschall would be out of commision due to a concussion. That meant ‘Nova was without two of its usual starters, as Booth missed the fourth game in a row with a broken hand that’s likely to keep him out until the postseason, if not just before it.

The loss of Booth hadn’t yet thrown Villanova off its axis, but without the energetic and high-flying Paschall in the lineup as well, the Wildcats certainly looked vulnerable on Wednesday night, as they fell to St. John’s 79-75.

“We miss him, but it can’t be an excuse,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “You got to be a good enough team where you can miss a couple guys and you can find a way to scrap it out.”

Indeed, Paschall’s absence didn’t hurt ‘Nova too badly on the boards; the Wildcats were only out-rebounded by the Red Storm by one (35-34) and had an 11-7 advantage on the offensive glass, with freshman big man Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree getting his first collegiate start.

It was Villanova’s typically-reliable outside shooting that did them in. Entering Wednesday night, the Wildcats were sixth in the country from 3-point range (41.8 percent), but they were just 8-of-33 overall, including a dismal 2-of-18 (11 percent) in the second half.

“A lot of them were contested,” Wright said. “We didn’t make the extra passes, but they do a good job of jumping out in the passing lanes taking that away from you.”

While Villanova was struggling to hit shots, St. John’s wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire from the field, shooting 27-55 (49 percent) but enough to keep them ahead in the game for 36:21. They were also hitting their free throws, going 19-24 from the stripe.

St. John’s led by nine points with 2:39 to go in the game, their largest lead all night. But Villanova (22-2, 9-2) went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to just one point with 1:25 to go, after junior guard Jalen Brunson converted an and-one opportunity for three of his game-high 28 points.

After St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds went split a pair from the line with 22 seconds to go, redshirt freshman center Omari Spellman had a chance from three to give Villanova the lead with 10 seconds left but missed. St. John’s would then sink a couple free throws to ice the game.

It’s the first win for St. John’s over a No. 1 team since current head coach Chris Mullin was on their 1985 Final Four squad when they beat No. 1 Georgetown led by current head coach Patrick Ewing.

Wright said he thinks the Wildcats will be without Paschall “at least a week, at the least,” which would mean he’ll miss this Saturday’s game against Butler and likely next Wednesday’s trip to Providence. Following that, Villanova plays at Xavier on Feb. 17 and then DePaul at home on Feb. 21.

Luckily for Villanova, Paschall’s absence comes just as one other injured player got a clean bill of health.

In his first game back a fractured left hand, Samuels played five minutes, recording three rebounds and one assist. Prior to his injury, the 6-6 freshman wing was averaging 6.5 mpg, scoring 1.6 ppg.

Wright said that he would’ve liked to give Samuels some more minutes in his return had it been a large Villanova lead, since Samuels only practiced one day after becoming cleared to play.

After sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo fouled out of the game in the final minute, Samuels was forced to check in and came up with a huge rebound and assist to an open Gillespie for three to cut the lead to just one again.

“Really gutsy, and I was even more impressed with Jermaine’s rebound and kick out to him, that was a huge play,” Wright said. “Collin is a gutsy kid and that isn’t a surprise to anyone on our team and he did a great job tonight.”

Villanova will try to get back into the win column against a Butler team that has had their number as of late, winning three straight contests against the Wildcats dating back to last season.

The Bulldogs swept the season series last year and beat the Wildcats on Dec. 30 at Hinkle Fieldhouse by a final score of 101-93.

Butler (17-8, 7-5 Big East) is coming off of an overtime loss against Xavier, but the Bulldogs are 5-2 in their last seven games.

“We’ve got to go to work and see how much better we can get, and see if we can execute our game plan against Butler better than we did tonight.” Wright said.

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