Can No. 24 St. John's slay another Goliath on the road?
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First came the win.
Then came the honors.
Now the St. John's Red Storm head into a pivotal matchup with Villanova ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2015.
After beating Georgetown 97-94 in overtime behind Shamorie Ponds' 37 points on Saturday (their first win over the Hoyas in Washington since 2003) the Red Storm (14-1, 2-1 in Big East) head to Villanova's Finneran Pavilion at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday ranked No. 24 in the AP poll.
"I think there's tremendous excitement, optimism, and a good feeling," head coach Chris Mullin recently told reporters. "I think it's great that our fan base has watched us throughout. They watched us struggle, improve, and now watch them have success. It's a genuine and authentic way to go about it."
With back-to-back showcase wins -- the first a 20-point thrashing at No. 16 Marquette and the drought-snapping win over Georgetown -- the Red Storm are scorching. St. John's used the extended streak against the Hoyas as motivation.
"We were definitely aware of it," said Ponds, who was awarded Big East Player of the Week for his efforts. "We talked about it after we got the win. We fought and came out with a win."
Now that the Johnnies have made it to the Top 25, they want to stay there. But that will take a big effort against the Wildcats (11-4, 2-0), who have won two of the last three national championships and were ranked No. 9 to start this season. Early-season consecutive losses to now-second-ranked Michigan (forgivable) and Furman (not so much) sent Villanova tumbling down the rankings to the mid-20s. The Wildcats moved back up to No. 17 after six straight wins but were bounced form the rankings after two more consecutive losses at Penn and then-No. 1 Kansas in mid-December.
Now the Wildcats have righted the ship with three straight wins, including a 23-point win over UConn.
"We've got a resilient group," Villanova's leading scorer Phil Booth recently told reporters. "We've been down a lot this year but we're together and we've found ways to come back by doing what we do. We've got guys that are mentally tough."
Booth had 23 points in a 65-59 win at Providence on Saturday, his fifth game with at least 20 points this season. Eric Paschall added 13 points.
"Phil and Eric keep us together," head coach Jay Wright said recently. "Those two keep everybody together and are our rocks out there. I think the other guys learn from them. I just think it's their presence. You can tell when it gets tight the other guys are looking for them. Defensively they're going to make plays for us down the stretch."
Against the Friars, that was a problem, as Booth had the team's only five points in the game's final eight-and-a-half minutes, as a 20-point lead dwindled to as little as four.
"I thought it was just a case of us just not playing intelligently in that stretch," Wright said. "Instead of making the extra pass, each guy was trying to get that basket that's the dagger. It's tough when you're on the road and they're playing aggressively. I thought in the first half they missed a lot of open shots and had open looks from deep that they just missed. We said that at halftime. Sometimes you have a (day) where you make all your shots, sometimes you day one where you make them."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 7, 2019