Second-ranked St. John's 89-74 victory over Villanova in the Big East Conference semifinals tonight wasn't pretty. But hardly anyone in the sellout crowd of 19,591 in Madison Square Garden seemed to care.
As St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said after the Redmen's inside game, depth and grit had proven too much for Villanova, "We pleased you. You wanted St. John's-Georgetown. You got it. What else do you want?"
So, at 7 o'clock Saturday night (WTTG-TV-5), it's St. John's-Georgetown III. Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino has lost to St. John's three times this season and Georgetown twice. So he's an expert.
"I can't say one team will win, because they're both terrific," he said. "I hope they and Georgetown advance and meet each other in the (NCAA) finals."
What these teams will be playing for Saturday night will be who is seeded first and remains in the East Regional. As Carnesecca said, "We'll find out where we go, if we pack a big suitcase, or a little one."
In a 27-2 season that includes a split with Georgetown, St. John's played few games as ugly as tonight's. "It was a question of who would remain standing at the end," Carnesecca said.
It was St. John's, because Walter Berry (22 points -- 16 in the second half -- and 11 rebounds) and reserve Ron Stewart (three key baskets) were unstoppable inside, and point guards Mike Moses and Mark Jackson, paired for the first time this season, handled Villanova's press.
"Point guards, you should throw a benefit for them," Carnesecca said in praise of Moses (17 points, seven assists) and Jackson (10 points), who made 14 of 16 free throws in the second half.
Ed Pinckney, Villanova's senior center, scored 27 points, but 22 of them came after St. John's had opened a 43-29 lead with 17:34 to play. He was unable to score inside until center Bill Wennington (10 points, seven rebounds) got into foul trouble.
Five times in the second half, Villanova came within five points. But each time, from 51-46 to 59-54, St. John's answered by punching the ball inside for easy scores.
First it was two free throws by Berry. Then Stewart, ably filling in for Wennington, forced Pinckney to goaltend his point-blank shot. Next, Chris Mullin (14 points, tournament-record 11 assists) fed Berry from the corner for a dipsy-doodle layup.
It was still a six-point margin when Villanova's Dwayne McClain (12 points) hit a jumper from the right side with 3:30 to play. After a miss by St. John's, Villanova reserve Harold Jensen had an open 15-footer. But he missed, and Mullin converted two free throws as St. John's started to pull away.