They might not be designer sportswear, but the latest in winning basketball fashions will be on display a little longer.
Chris Mullin, the inspiration behind the red T-shirt under the jersey, scored 12 of his 21 points in the final 6:08 today as No. 1 St. John's overcame an eight-point second-half deficit to defeat No. 19 Villanova, 70-68, before a sellout of 18,202 at the Spectrum.
The Redmen, who have won 14 straight, are 19-1 overall and lead the Big East at 11-0. They have won eight straight since Mullin, the 6-foot-6 all-America guard, donned the T-shirt and St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca started wearing an Italian brown, red and blue sweater given to him as a gift.
Mullin made what might have been the game's biggest play with 3:28 to go. After missing a 20-foot shot, he stayed back to intercept Ed Pinckney's outlet pass intended for Gary McLain. Pinckney fouled Mullin on the ensuing shot and the three-point play gave St. John's a 61-57 lead. The Redmen never led by less than two after that.
"He kind of stepped in front of me," said Pinckney, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. "I never saw him."
Today's performance by the Wildcats (15-6, 7-4) was reminiscent of two other Big East losses this season. They led both St. John's and then-No. 1 Georgetown at halftime, only to fold. (They will play the Hoyas again at Capital Centre Monday night.) Villanova led, 37-33, at intermission today, and 41-33 after McLain and Dwayne McClain (24 points, eight rebounds) scored to start the second half.
St. John's took a 58-57 lead on Mullin's two free throws with 4:44 remaining and never trailed again. Mike Moses' two foul shots with one second left ensured the victory.
"I don't know why we keep getting in trouble," said Carnesecca, who after the game was given a T-shirt, printed with the same pattern as his sweater, a hot item among St. John's students. "I don't know if this club will ever play to its potential, but whatever it is doing, I hope it keeps doing it. We are not pretty; we give up a lot of easy shots, but I'm proud of this team because we have character."
Mullin, averaging more than 21 points and shooting 62 percent from the field since putting on the T-shirt, scored four points in the first half. St. John's never really established its offense in the second half against the box-and-one defense, so Mullin had to create his opportunities.
He brought the Redmen within 43-42 with 14:50 to go on a three-point play that came about when he jumped against seemingly well-positioned Dwight Wilbur, but was awarded the basket and a foul. Mullin's incredible shot, as he was falling directly underneath the basket, tied the game at 54 with 6:08 left. He came right back with a stuff for a 56-54 lead.
St. John's forward Walter Berry (18 points) had a good first half, but Mullin was determined to be more of a factor in the second half.
"Villanova took us out of our offense," he said. "It was tough for me, because I wasn't even seeing the ball with Dwayne McClain and (Mark) Plansky all over me. Sometimes I didn't even know why I was bothering to run around, but I had to do something."
McClain did not score in the last seven minutes, and Pinckney was scoreless in the last five as the Wildcats failed to get the ball inside.
"You just can't make the mistakes we made down the stretch today and beat the No. 1 team," said Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino, who left the postgame meeting with reporters without answering questions.