With Chris Harris spending most of the evening raining in three-point baskets from nearly every spot on the Pavilion floor, Navy looked as if it was going to wash away Villanova's 21-game home-winning streak.
But the 18th-ranked Wildcats foiled the Midshipmen's upset bid, shutting down the visitors' three-point shooting down the stretch and posting their last 11 points from the free-throw line in picking up a 78-68 victory last night.
The game marked the return to the Main Line of former Villanova assistant Billy Lange, now in his fifth season as Navy's head coach. And his players, particularly the spectacular Harris, made it a scary game for Lange's former boss, Jay Wright.
Harris, a 6-foot-2 junior, knocked down his first six attempts from three-point territory and finished 8 of 10 from deep enroute to a career-high 30 points. As a team, the Mids (8-4) were 14 of 28 on treys.
"Harris was just great," Wright said. "Once you let a guy like that get it going early, it's tough to stop him. We made mistakes early and just left him. We didn't do as bad a job after that, but he got it going and that distorts your whole defense. Give them credit, they were very prepared."
The Wildcats (11-1), who had been idle for eight days while taking final exams, were not sharp. They shot just 24 percent on three-pointers. They missed eight free throws. They had to finish strong just to outrebound the smaller Mids.
Senior forward Dante Cunningham, who scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, said it was the job of he and the team's other leaders - seniors Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson and junior Scottie Reynolds - to have the Cats ready.
"We have to pull the team together, clear their heads and get them ready," he said. "Like Coach said, we didn't do a good job of it, but we're working every day to get better."
The Wildcats drew out to an 11-point lead on six occasions but never could put Navy away. The Midshipmen kept scrapping and eventually made it a one-possession game at 67-64 after Kaleo Kina hit a free throw with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to play.
But Villanova spent the remainder of the game marching to the free-throw line. Antonio Pena connected on five foul shots in the closing 2:22, and Reynolds hit a pair to finish with 23 points, tying his season high.
"You can feel the tension," Wright said. "They get it to three and they're hitting their threes. Once it gets to that point, you know this is how you get beat in games like this. The pressure is on. But it's good to experience that. I'd rather wait for a Big East game, but it is good."
Wright improved to 5-1 coaching against former members of his staff, 2-0 against Lange.
Lange, who worked at 'Nova from 2001 to 2004, twice has thrown a scare into the Wildcats.
"This was a great time in my life being here," he said. "I got engaged here and married here, and I had my first child here. Coach Wright's a mentor to me and this community has done so much for our lives. So, we'll keep coming back if Coach will keep having us."