Daniel Ochefu makes offensive impact to lead No. 1 Villanova

By Josh Verlin, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 14, 2016 at 12:15 AM
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PHILADELPHIA -- With top-ranked Villanova's shots not falling against struggling St. John's, Daniel Ochefu stepped up.

The Wildcats' senior center had perhaps the most dominant performance of his collegiate career, setting a new personal best with 25 points to lead the No. 1 team in the country to a 73-63 win over the Red Storm on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center.

"It's the balance of our team, and we'll take it," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "On a night like this when you don't play particularly well offensively, you've got a big guy like that who can come in and be a force makes a big difference."

Ochefu's performance was sorely needed on a night where Villanova (22-3, 12-1 Big East) struggled to find itself offensively against a St. John's squad going through its worst run in program history.

The Wildcats were just 4-of-19 (21.1 percent) from the 3-point arc, including an 0-for-11 mark in the first half.

So Villanova turned to its 6-foot-11 force in the middle, and he delivered. Ochefu, who also had nine rebounds, was 11-of-14 from the floor against a largely undersized St. John's team and scored 18 of his points in the first 33 minutes.

After missing three games with a concussion, including the first matchup between the teams on Jan. 31, Ochefu hasn't missed a step in either of his two games since his return.

"I have great guards on this team," he said, "so a lot of the attention has been taken off myself, and my teammates have been doing a extremely good job of finding me in easy spots for layups and dunks, so it's not really a concern for us offensively."

With the loss, St. John's program-record streak extends to 16 consecutive defeats. Prior to this year, the Red Storm (7-19, 0-13) had never lost more than seven in a row.

It was the Wildcats' first time ever playing in front of a home crowd with the No. 1 ranking and just second time overall, though they insisted that didn't have a part in their struggles.

"I don't think there was any added pressure," senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. "We already played a game as No. 1, but that's not something that we even think about or even talk about."

After Ochefu kept his team afloat early in the second half, the shots started to fall for Villanova, which established a double-digit lead for the first time with 12:44 remaining on Arcidiacono's second 3-pointer of the evening. The 2015 Big East co-MVP finished with 13 points, all but two of which came after the break.

Sophomore forward Amar Alibegovic paced three St. John's players in double figures with 18 points. Freshman guard Malik Ellison and grad student Durand Johnson had 10 each.

"We junked it up a little bit with a little box-and-one on Arcidiacono, just to try to junk the game up a little bit, get them out of rhythm here and there," St. John's coach Chris Mullin said. "They're a veteran team, and so well-coached, they're going to figure it out."

Villanova did not resemble the No. 1 team in the country out of the gate, managing only eight points over the game's first eight minutes.

Even when the Wildcats started scoring at a slightly higher clip, thanks to seven St. John's turnovers leading to 12 fast-break points, the shots didn't fall.

Villanova missed all 11 of it 3-point attempts during the first half, which ended with the same 28-27 score as the first time the two teams played. The Wildcats won that game, 68-53.

"I think a lot of it, they just missed open shots," Mullin said. "We played decent defense, I thought, the effort and energy was really good. We contested some of them, but some of them they missed."

St. John's only held the lead for fewer than two minutes in the first half on Saturday night as Villanova went 10-for-10 from the foul line to hold the one-point advantage.

Alibegovic had seven at the half as the Red Storm shot 11-of-30 (36.7 percent) in the opening 20 minutes.

NOTES: Villanova honored its 2005-06 team, which made it to the Elite Eight, at halftime. Randy Foye, Mike Nardi and other former Wildcats were present for the ceremony. ... Villanova's current senior class of Ryan Arcidiacono, Patrick Farrell, Henry Lowe and Daniel Ochefu has 104 wins, the most by any class in the Wildcats' 96-year program history. ... The Wildcats had previously been ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll six different times, including last March when they earned a No. 1 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament before bowing out in the Round of 32.

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