All Jay Wright wanted to see Tuesday night was for Villanova to build on its victory in the previous game. If the Wildcats beat a difficult opponent in St. Joseph's, so much the better for him and his team.
The Wildcats performed in a way that delighted their emotional supporters at the Pavilion. Villanova scored the game's final nine points in the last two minutes, with James Bell accounting for the go-ahead three-point basket, and defeated St. Joseph's, 65-61, in its final Big Five game of the season.
It was a wild night. Wright and Hawks forward C.J. Aiken were assessed technical fouls. St. Joe's Halil Kanacevic delivered an obscene gesture toward the 'Nova student section after he drained a three-pointer midway through the second half, drawing boos whenever he touched the ball the rest of the game.
The Wildcats (6-4 overall, 2-2 City Series) kept their composure and delivered the win over their archrivals. But Wright cautioned about getting too crazy about it.
"I felt we made some progress after the Temple game and playing Penn, and I didn't want to lose it," he said. "I just think St. Joe's is really good. I think they were capable of coming in here and making a lot of shots and beating us.
"We have to keep a different progression. I know what fans want, and fans deserve it. But we've got to keep a progression of just getting better and better and better. We really didn't look at it that way. When it's over, yes, it was a nice win, a big win, and we're going to learn a lot from it."
In a game that featured seven ties and 15 lead changes, the Hawks (5-3, 0-1) had what passed for control after Langston Galloway knocked down his sixth three-pointer for a 61-56 lead with 2 minutes, 12 seconds to play. But they didn't score again, with two turnovers and a pair of missed free throws by Kanacevic on their last three possessions.
Bell, who finished with 12 points, then sparked the clinching run. The junior swingman sank both ends of a one-and-one and freshman Daniel Ochefu hit a follow-up shot to cut the 'Nova deficit to one.
On Villanova's next possession, Bell took a pass from Ryan Arcidiacono in the left corner and swished a trey to give his team a 63-61 lead.
"It's a big feeling," Bell said. "But like Coach always says, the highs can't be too high, the lows can't be too low. We had to get a stop on the other end and I was worried about getting back."
St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli called two timeouts to set up a final play, but Aiken was tied up in the corner by 'Nova's Darrun Hilliard. The Hawks retained possession, but Kanacevic, trying to inbound the ball off defender Maurice Sutton's leg, saw the deflection hit his leg out of bounds for a turnover, their 18th of the night, with three seconds to play.
Bell then hit two insurance free throws.
"Our offense is hit-or-miss right now," Martelli said. "We called a couple of timeouts, we had something that we really wanted to see. It looked like it came open. I'm not dead certain it came open, but we put the ball in the wrong spot. It's something we have to address on the practice floor."