NEW YORK– It was something that people were missing.
The fans, the players, the coaches, the writers, everyone in the building had been longing for this feeling for two years.
Tension you could cut with a knife, momentum shifting back-and-forth, going from one team and fanbase that is a Madison Square Garden Mainstay every March, to another team and fanbase that calls Madison Square Garden their home.
It was a welcome to sight to everyone, and it’s exactly what they’ve been waiting for, and they finally got it.
It wouldn’t be the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden without a nail biter, although it was probably a nail biter that Villanova didn’t anticipate being in.
Whether it was rest or rust or just a poor performance, the first half performance that Villanova had in their Big East Tournament Quarterfinal game against St. John’s, was uncharacteristic to say the least.
“We just got out of sync a little bit.” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “But you’ve got to give credit to St. John’s. They got in us and we just didn’t execute well in the first half.”
Villanova shot 7-for-30 (23 percent) from the field in the first half, and they shot a putrid 5-for-19 from three (26 percent).
The start of the second half didn’t look good either, as St. John’s jumped out to a 17-point lead in the second half at the Under-16 timeout and it looked like Villanova was going to bow out in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
Villanova would go on a little run here, and a little run there, but the Red Storm would always weather the storm (Pun most definitely intended).
But something changed in the second half and Villanova did, well, Villanova things.
The building erupted, you could feel the momentum shifting like a seesaw and all of a sudden, the Villanova faithful, of which there were plenty, were on their feet making noise.
Villanova took the lead, then St. John’s would take the lead, they were going blow for blow like The Fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali that took place in this very arena.
Just like in The Fight, Philly prevailed.
Brandon Slater got fouled with 2.8 seconds left, Villanova down one. He went to the line and drained both of his free throws to give the Wildcats the lead and ultimately the win.
“We put pressure on ourselves to make it like a game rep every single time in practice.” Slater said. “So that pressure that we have in practice in the summertime and then fall and then when we get into the season, we already have built those reps. And then we literally do it every single day in practice.”
It was fitting that the best free-throw shooting team in the nation (82.5 percent) ended this game by draining two freebies.
“We work on free throws every day in practice.” Slater said. “So when I step to the line my teammates and coaches, they were telling me, we do this every single day. They gave me that confidence and I was able to knock it down.”
Slater only finished the game with seven points, but he went a perfect 5-for-5 at the line.
Caleb Daniels finished with a team-high 19 points, Justin Moore finished with 15 points, and Collin Gillespie finished with 14 points.
The win advances Villanova to the Big East Tournament semi-final, their sixth in the last seven years where they will take on either UConn or Seton Hall.
You’d be smart to assume Wright doesn’t want a repeat of the first half against St. John’s