In yet another wild night of college basketball, East Carolina and St. John's pulled major upsets against conference leaders, downing AP top-5 teams in No. 5 Houston and No. 3 Villanova. The Cougars and Wildcats were two of the five ranked teams to lose Wednesday, joining No. 15 Creighton, No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 22 Florida.
Here's how East Carolina and St. John's got its wins and made some history:
East Carolina scores program's first-ever top-5 win
Before Wednesday, East Carolina hadn't beat a ranked team since 2002. The Pirates' 82-73 stunner over No. 5 Houston was not only a ranked victory but also the program's first-ever win against an AP top-5 team. Junior forward Jayden Gardner led the way for ECU with 21 points and 15 rebounds as one of the Pirates to score in double figures.
ECU trailed by as many as seven points in the first half but closed the halftime deficit to three before ripping off a 9-2 run to open the second period. The Pirates wouldn't trail again after senior guard Bitumba Baruti's put the home team up 44-42 on a 3-pointer with 17:19 to play. They'd go ahead for good on a Tristen Newton jumper with 12:11 remaining and outscored the Cougars by 12 in the second half.
Momentum did not favor ECU coming into this contest as it had lost five straight before a bout with the AAC's first-place team. On Wednesday, it got something more important at the moment: consistency. The Pirates shot better than 45 percent from the floor in both halves and only turned the ball over seven times. Through January 31, Houston led the nation in points per game allowed (56.0) and opponent field goal percentage (36.2 percent). ECU shot 47.4 percent for the game — far and away the highest clip the Cougars have allowed this year — and turned that into 82 points to snap a nine-game skid against Houston.
St. John's earns first top-3 home win since 1966
Villanova's trip to Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night was the first time a top-3 team came to St. John's since 1980. It had been more than 55 years since SJU last beat a top-3 team before the Red Storm topped the No. 3 Wildcats 70-59.
Like East Carolina, St. John's took down the first-place team in their conference. But unlike the Pirates, the Red Storm came into Wednesday's game with no shortage of confidence. SJU entered on a four-game winning streak and rode that wave of momentum right past Villanova, but not without surviving an early knockout attempt. The Wildcats jolted out to a 10-3 lead in the opening minutes, but the Red Storm never flinched. A 3-pointer by junior guard Vince Cole pulled them ahead for good, a lead that would not be relinquished over the final 24:56.
Cole was one of three double-digit scorers for St. John's. Back-to-back Big East Freshman of the Week Posh Alexander had a team-high 16 points along with four rebounds, six assists and three steals. But it was the Red Storm's defensive efforts that were more noticeable in the win. SJU forced 17 Villanova turnovers — including six by starting guard Collin Gillespie. The Wildcats average 79 points per game and shoot better than 46 percent from the field. Against St. John's, they were held to season-lows in points (59) and field-goal percentage (32.3 percent) as the Red Storm dealt Villanova its first Big East loss of the year.