"They did a great job of saying 'We're taking away your threes, and if you want to keep shooting them, you are going to shoot really tough ones,' " Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
He knew at halftime the strategy would have to change.
"We started going inside and driving the ball," Wright said.
In finishing 5 for 16 from beyond the arc, the Wildcats tied a season low for three-pointers made. The key to the win was making 31 of 40 free throws. The Red Storm made 19 of 24.
New York native JayVaughn Pinkston had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Villanova.
"I was nervous in the beginning. I had four turnovers," he said. "I was a little anxious, but once I settled down I got into the flow of the game."
His teammates followed.
The Wildcats, who got 14 points off the bench from freshman Josh Hart and 13 from sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono, were smart in not totally abandoning the three-pointer.
Villanova took the lead for good when freshman Kris Jenkins drilled a three, giving the Wildcats a 58-56 advantage with 6 minutes, 17 seconds left.
It began an 8-0 run that also included two free throws by Pinkston and a deep three-pointer by Darrun Hilliard, his only field goal in 10 attempts.
With 33 seconds left, Hart stole the ball, scored on a driving layup and was fouled, extending the lead to 70-63.
Hart missed that free throw but made two with 20.2 seconds left to ice the win.
He also drew the assignment in the second half of guarding explosive junior D'Angelo Harrison, who finished with a game-high 22 points. Rysheed Jordan of Vaux High scored 10 of his 12 points for St. John's in the second half.