PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Villanova appeared to be on its way to a convincing victory over Providence, only to see it nearly turn into a brutal defeat, as a sellout crowd of 12,410 went from library quiet to high-decibel roars that filled the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

The Wildcats led twice by 21 points and by 20 with 8 minutes, 43 seconds remaining, when their offense stopped functioning and allowed the Friars to go on a 16-0 run that gave them hope of what could have been an inspiring victory.

But, the visitors had just enough left – in large part thanks to a clutch three-point play by Phil Booth and some late indecision by Providence – and held on for a 65-59 victory.

Even as Big East contests go, this was a strange one. With Booth scoring 17 of his game-high 23 in the first half, the Wildcats (11-4, 2-0 Big East) shot 57.7 percent and took a 43-25 lead at the break. The Friars (10-5, 0-2) connected on less than 30 percent of their shot attempts, made only one three-point basket in 11 tries, and missed 10 free throws, but not because Jay Wright came up with the perfect defense.

“Defensively, we were OK,” the Villanova coach said. “I thought really they missed a lot of shots and free throws. We said that at halftime: this is much closer than the score indicates. It really wasn’t anything we were doing.”

The Wildcats restored their 21-point margin with just less than 14 minutes left in the second half, and led by 20 after freshman Cole Swider, a resident of nearby Portsmouth, drilled a jumper at the 8:43 mark.

But something mysterious then hit the Villanova offense, a drought that lasted for 7:37 and included six missed shots and seven turnovers. Wright called it “not playing intelligently,” not making the extra pass, maybe expecting Booth and Eric Paschall to do it all.

“We have to learn for other guys to make plays rather than Phil and E all the time at the end of the game,” he said, “and we’ve got to trust each other a little bit better. It’s definitely not anybody being selfish. It’s, ‘I know I can get one here, I want to be the one to do it,.' "

Booth said, “We were playing aggressive, I thought. They were playing great defense, they ramped up their defensive intensity and did some good things on defense, showing us some different looks. We missed some shots where we probably could have gotten some better looks, but I think it’s more credit to them defensively.”

The crowd got louder with each Providence basket and each defensive stop. A conventional three-point play by Alpha Diallo with 1:27 to play drew the Friars to 60-56.

But Booth, who had missed all six of his second-half shots after going 6-of-8 in the first half, took the ball from the left wing and hit a scoop layup to start a three-point play with 1:06 left, making it a seven-point lead. Makai Ashton-Langford answered with a three-point basket, and the Wildcats turned it over on a shot-clock violation with 24.9 seconds left.

Ashton-Langford dribbled and dribbled, unable to find an open teammate, forcing coach Ed Cooley to call a timeout with 7.9 seconds to play. Isaiah Jackson missed a three-point try, and Booth salted the game away with a pair of free throws.

For the Cats, Paschall added 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Swider scored 10 in front of family members and friends. Diallo, Providence’s top scorer with a 17.4-point average, was held to 10.

“I was proud we were tough enough to finish it after really having a lot of chances to put it away,” Wright said.