The annual Big Five game between Villanova and St. Joseph's provided plenty of excitement Tuesday night with both teams having their chances to win.
But in the end, it was the Wildcats' James Bell who came up with the big baskets, hitting the go-ahead three-pointer with 29.0 seconds to play and adding two insurance free throws to give 'Nova a 65-61 victory over the Hawks before a screaming full house at the Pavilion.
The Hawks (5-3 overall, 0-1 City Series) had taken their biggest lead of the second half, 61-56, on Langston Galloway's sixth three-point basket of the game with 2 minutes, 12 seconds to play.
But St. Joe's never scored again, with two turnovers and a pair of missed free throws by Halil Kanacevic on its final three possessions.
The Wildcats (6-4, 2-2) scored the game's final nine points, seven by Bell.
Bell sank both ends of a one-and-one to start the rally and Daniel Ochefu hit a follow-up basket to make it a one-point game with 1:11 remaining. Kanacevic had a chance to add to the St. Joe's lead but missed two free throws with 45.8 seconds left.
After a Villanova timeout, Bell, who finished with 12 points, stood in the left corner, took a pass from Ryan Arcidiacano, and swished home the go-ahead basket to make it 63-61.
St. Joseph's called two timeouts to work for a final shot for the tie or win. Villanova's Darrun Hilliard tied up C.J. Aiken in the corner with the Hawks retaining possession. But Kanacevic, in trying to inbound the ball, threw a pass off defender Maurice Sutton's leg but the ball deflected off Kanacevic's leg, turning the ball over to the Wildcats.
Bell wrapped up the scoring with 2.4 seconds left on a pair of free throws.
JayVaughn Pinkston added 12 points for the Wildcats. Galloway had 22 points to lead the Hawks and Carl Jones added 16.
The game was a defensive struggle, with both teams shooting less than 40 percent from the field. It featured several lead changes in the second half, when neither team led by more than five points.
Villanova scored six straight points midway through the period and took a 53-50 lead on Maurice Sutton's dunk with 8:13 remaining. But the Hawks regained the lead on a free throw and a three-point basket by Jones and the two teams rode the seesaw once again.
From a 56-56 tie-the game's seventh-Ronald Roberts sank two free throws to put the Hawks in front and Galloway later drained his sixth three-pointer of the game for a 61-56 lead with 2:12 to play.
Villanova took a five-point lead, 36-31, on Mouphtaou Yarou's field goal in the opening minute of the second half but the Hawks surged in front behind three-point baskets from Aiken and Galloway. The Wildcats came back to tie but Halil Kanacevic drained a three to put St. Joe's back in front 50-47 with 9:51 remaining.
The Wildcats outscored the Hawks 10-3 in the final 3? minutes of the first half to move into a 33-31 lead at intermission. Their three field goals in this time all came on three-point baskets, by Achraf Yacoubou, Bell and Arcidiacano.
Villanova shot 36.4 percent from the field but went 6 of 14 (42.9 percent) from three-point range. Yacoubou had a pair of treys and led the Cats at the half with eight points and four rebounds, while Pinkston added seven points.
The Wildcats put up nine second-chance points in the opening half while limiting St. Joe's to one offensive board and no points on second-chance opportunities.
The Hawks shot 39.1 percent but put only four players in the scoring column. Galloway (13) and Jones (11) combined for all but seven of their points in the opening half. St. Joe's also had 11 turnovers, just one off their season average for a game.
The Wildcats held a 17-11 lead on Hilliard's three-point basket with 11:31 left in the half but St. Joe's went on a 13-2 run over the next seven minutes sparked by seven points from Jones. The spurt ended with two free throws by Galloway after a technical foul was called against Villanova coach Jay Wright.
The Hawks also took a five-point lead, 28-23, when Roberts connected on a layup with 3:53 to play. But that was St. Joe's last field goal of the half, and the Wildcats closed with their 10-3 spurt to take a two-point lead into the second half.