NEW YORK — Even with Rysheed Jordan back in the fold, St. John's is short on depth. So when big man Chris Obekpa got banged up and Sir'Dominic Pointer fouled out, the 24th-ranked Red Storm were quickly exposed by the Big East's top 'Cats.
Darrun Hilliard scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half and No. 8 Villanova rebounded nicely from its first defeat of the season, pulling away from St. John's for a 90-72 victory Tuesday night.
D'Angelo Harrison scored 25 for the Red Storm (11-4, 0-3), who dropped their third straight after a promising showing in non-conference play. Jordan, the team's second-leading scorer, returned from a one-game leave of absence and provided little, shooting 0 for 6 and finishing with a season-low two points in 26 minutes.
"He had a really good practice yesterday, but it's tough to step in to this level of competition against a quality team like Villanova when you had a disjointed week, as he clearly experienced," coach Steve Lavin said.
Dylan Ennis added 15 points and nine rebounds for the balanced Wildcats (14-1, 2-1) in a matchup of teams that both lost at Seton Hall last week. Daniel Ochefu had 13 points and 13 boards to help coach Jay Wright earn his 300th win at Villanova.
Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in with 10 assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes.
"Villanova played consistent for the entire 40 minutes and that's why they are the champs of this league and in position to win the championship again," Lavin said. "They are kind of the gold standard for the Big East conference now."
Trailing by two, Villanova took control with a 9-0 spurt midway through the second half. Moments later, Pointer picked up three fouls in a span of 1:42 and fouled out with 7:47 remaining.
Obekpa was re-inserted with four fouls, and Ochefu went to work inside. The 6-foot-11 junior scored four straight easy baskets as the Wildcats opened a 79-63 lead with 4 minutes to go.
"Just taking advantage of opportunities," Ochefu said. "Obviously, there were little guys on me, so it was a lot easier than with Pointer and Obekpa."
Obekpa hobbled to the bench earlier in the second half with a sore ankle but returned a few minutes later before a lively crowd at Madison Square Garden, with St. John's fans set on drowning out chants for visiting Villanova.
Jordan, the Red Storm's sixth man, came off the bench following the first media timeout and airballed his first two shots. The sophomore guard, who was averaging 14 points per game, took an "indefinite" leave of absence last week to deal with "personal and family matters" back home in Philadelphia. He rejoined the team Monday following his grandmother's death.
Lavin had said after Saturday's home loss to Butler that Jordan wouldn't play against Villanova, but changed course on Monday.
St. John's had a three-point lead and a chance to hold for the final shot before halftime. But then Phil Greene IV was stripped of the ball, and Arcidiacono drew Harrison's second foul as he raced toward the basket.
Players went down in a heap underneath, and a writhing Harrison grabbed for a bruised right knee that forced him out of the game. Arcidiacono hit two free throws, and the Red Storm went into the break leading 35-34.
"That's a big swing," Lavin said. "I thought that was a big sequence."
The Red Storm opened 0-5 in Big East play last season, including an early January loss to No. 8 Villanova at Madison Square Garden that left them with an 0-3 conference record.
Villanova: Wright is 300-150 at Villanova. ... The Wildcats outrebounded St. John's 41-21 and got 25 points from their bench to seven for the Red Storm. ... Villanova had 22 assists to eight for St. John's.
St. John's: Greene had 14 points. ... Harrison has scored at least 20 in six straight games, including 31 in Saturday's 73-69 loss to Butler. ... St. John's leads 60-50 in a series that dates to 1909, making Villanova the most frequent opponent in school history. The Wildcats have won six consecutive meetings, including two that went to overtime. ... Ex-major league closer and St. John's alum John Franco sat in the front row wearing a red SJU cap and received a warm ovation when he was shown on the giant video board.
Pointer and Obekpa combined to block five shots in the first 8:13. Pointer finished with four blocks and Obekpa three. St. John's is averaging seven blocks per game, good for sixth in the country.
Villanova: Home against DePaul on Saturday.
St. John's: At Providence next Wednesday.