Were Villanova fans going to storm the court just for forcing overtime? It was that kind of Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. The home team trailed for all but 24 seconds of regulation. The visiting team was Syracuse.

"I think sometimes we don't thank our rivals enough," Villanova coach Jay Wright said later. "When Syracuse comes in here, this place is rocking. I'll tell you, I don't like it when they have a lead at the end and this place is chanting, 'Let's go Orange.' But I know our people get fired up when they come in here."

This makes it into the lore of this rivalry - Villanova scoring five points in the last 11 seconds of regulation, JayVaughn Pinkston grabbing a steal in the chaotic final seconds and then hitting a close-in tying basket that felt like a game-winner, before Villanova took charge in overtime and won it, 82-77.

Josh Hart, who hit a three-pointer with 17 seconds remaining, used two jerseys and played with tissue stuffed up a nostril after he took an elbow, bloodying his nose. Darrun Hilliard, who scored 23 points, including a spree of jumpers that got Villanova back into it, was undergoing concussion protocol instead of playing the final minutes.

You can't say it was a typical Big East game, since that Big East doesn't exist anymore.

"No matter who plays here, no matter who coaches here, it's the same thing," Wright said of 'Nova vs. Syracuse. "This is as important a game to us as any Big East game. It's Northeast basketball. It used to be what the Big East was. It's still Northeast basketball."

"Why should we play Illinois or Kentucky or somebody?" Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of scheduling nonleague games against Big East teams after his Orange left for the greener pastures of the Atlantic Coast Conference. "Maybe not every year, but we'll play."

Philadelphia has been good to Boeheim, offering talented players - the latest his top scorer and rebounder this season, senior Rakeem Christmas. And Boeheim is dead-on about the series' being good for all.

"When Villanova gets somebody else here, they're not going to get 18,000," Boeheim said.

More than anything, the undefeated Wildcats needed a game exactly like this. Wright certainly wasn't surprised that it was Syracuse that offered it. Never mind what Boeheim had said beforehand about his young group's being nowhere near a good basketball team. In the first half, the Orange were very, very good, and Villanova didn't look ready for it.

"A lot of people were saying, 'Oh, you should handle them,' " Wright said. "Syracuse-Villanova, it's never been anything but what we just saw."

Wright credited his upperclassmen. They deserved the credit. All sorts of little things contributed to this one. Villanova had looked dead in the water, trailing by 47-33 after a couple of bad turnovers early in the second half. Then Hilliard heated up and Ryan Arcidiacono kept forcing turnovers.

It easily could have gone another way, of course. Pinkston could have been kicking himself for a couple of turnovers at key times. The Wildcats could have been wondering why they looked so disjointed in the first half, why their aggressive pressure 'D' mostly led to great looks for the Orange, who kept knocking them down.

Instead, other plays loomed large. Syracuse fans would point to the free-throw-shooting disparity. It didn't hurt Villanova that Syracuse had to use its last timeout when it couldn't get the ball inbounds with 20 seconds left. Maybe that didn't seem like a big play by Villanova's full-court defense at the time, after Syracuse reset and got it to Trevor Cooney, who hit a couple of free throws for a five-point lead with 11 seconds to go. Events in the seconds that followed showed it was huge.

Hart soon hit his three after a feed from Arcidiacono, and Kaleb Joseph got the ball and quickly was double-covered, with nowhere to turn. Syracuse certainly would have liked a foul call right there. But this is the Big E . . . Northeast basketball. Arcidiacono ended up with the ball and got it to Pinkston, and this time Pinkston found a rare opening on the other side of the basket and showed how a tie can feel as good as a win - especially if a win follows five minutes later.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus