A regulation game was not going to be enough to decide it. It would take an extra 5 minutes. Villanova scored the first 10 points of overtime, finally locked up the Red Storm on defense and won it, 98-86.
"Our offense carried us tonight," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Hopefully, we can keep getting better defensively and just keep growing from these games."
St. John's (8-5, 0-1 Big East) starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. The Red Storm has the second leading scorer in the Big East (sophomore D'Angelo Harrison) and the nation's leading shot blocker (freshman Chris Obekpa).
Villanova (10-4, 1-0) will never dazzle with its halfcourt execution, but the effort is there with this group. The good news is they are getting better. The bad news could be coming when the tougher teams in the league show up on the schedule.
"We know we've got to get better," Wright said. "We've got a lot of things we've got to fix. They shot 47 percent from the field, 50 percent from three."
Harrison had 21 of his 36 points by halftime. 'Nova freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono had 17 of his 32 after 20 minutes. Arcidiacono had more help for most of the game from JayVaughn Pinkston (26 points) and big help from Darrun Hilliard (14 points) late in regulation and in OT. Harrison got his help later, but it was not quite enough.
'Nova associate head coach Billy Lange described Harrison to Wright as "Ben Gordon." He played like the former Connecticut great.
"Harrison was incredible," Wright said. "He scored 36 points and I thought James Bell did a great job on him in the second half."
Arcidiacono and Pinkston were the antidotes to Harrison. The point guard from Neshaminy High, playing his first Big East game, was 7-or-13 from the arc and 11-for-13 from the foul line. It was a serious debut.
"My first game in the Big East, I didn't want to do too much, try to force many things," Arcidiacono said. "My teammates set some great screens and got me open for some shots. Tonight, he was making them."
He has been getting in extra practice on his form and technique with Lange, and it showed. Even his misses looked good.
Did the basket look big?
"I would say it looked a little bigger out there," Arcidiacono said.
St. John's coach Steve Lavin has one of the youngest teams in the country. He said his players played some of their best ball of the season for stretches. But four players fouled out, and they had nothing left at the end.
"There is a lot we had to overcome," Lavin said. "We played zone for 45 minutes and they shot 42 foul shots. I think that's a first for my coaching career."
St. John's hardly takes threes. Villanova's defense is geared to stop the ball at the rim, with the three-point line a secondary consideration.
Something had to give. It was 'Nova's defense. The Red Storm, which had made only 47 threes in 12 games, had six by halftime and 10 for the game. Villanova also had 10 treys, seven by Arcidiacono. The only thing more prevalent than turnovers (34) was fouls (50). It was definitely a Big East game, taking close to 3 hours to complete.
What Wright likes most about his team is that "these guys have guts."
"We've done this a number of times already this year where we gave up leads, we're on the road; we look like we're losing it," he said. "We just don't go away. The guys make big plays and it's been different guys."
Villanova won the first half, 43-40. St. John's won the second half by an identical score. It was 15-3 in OT, with the Red Storm's lone hoop right before the buzzer.
"That was the key," Wright said of the OT defense. "We got dialed in defensively in overtime which we have to learn how to do for 40 minutes . . . It was really good in the overtime."
The game came down to who had something left for those extra 5 minutes. That was Villanova.