If style points counted toward the outcome on the court, Villanova would have finished up its nonconference schedule with a disappointing loss to the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
But the Wildcats found ways to overcome what had been a poor shooting night with some clutch baskets in the final five minutes Friday night and entered the Big East portion of their schedule on a positive note with a 70-60 victory over the Highlanders at the Pavilion.
The Wildcats won their fifth straight game and improved to 9-4 heading into Wednesday night's conference opener at home against St. John's. If it took a close call against the Highlanders (6-6), who had lost by an average of six points to three previous Big East opponents, to prepare them, then coach Jay Wright will take it.
"I thought we learned we could come into a game and not make shots and find a way to win, find a way to grind it out," Wright said. "I thought we did a good job of that especially down the stretch. We had some really good defensive possessions down the stretch and actually got some stops that got us some transition baskets."
With seven minutes left in the game, Villanova was shooting 25 percent from the field and locked in a 52-52 tie. But the offense clicked after that, with six field goals in its final nine shots.
After the game's last tie at 54-all, JayVaughn Pinkston went to work in the lane, converting a pair of baskets and being rewarded with a free throw after the first one to complete a three-point play. That gave the Wildcats a five-point lead with 4 minutes, 49 seconds to play.
NJIT never got closer than three after that. Ryan Arcidiacano, Darrun Hilliard and freshman Daniel Ochefu hit baskets in the closing minutes, and Tony Chennault came up with a pair of steals as Villanova limited the Highlanders to just two baskets after the last deadlock.
For the game, Villanova shot a season-low 30.8 percent from the field while hitting just 5 of 27 three-point tries. The Wildcats had connected on better than 54 percent of their three-point shots in their previous two games.
"As a young team, we're trying to get our young guys to learn that when we're not making shots, it can't affect us defensively," Wright said. "I thought we lost a little bit of our aggressiveness defensively because we were not making shots. We got a little frustrated."
Other than the shooting, Wright was pleased with the offense. The Wildcats committed a season-low eight turnovers and sank 25 of 33 free throws. Ryan Arcidiacano's 17 points led four players in double figures.
On the negative side, however, the Wildcats were outrebounded, 46-41, by the smaller Highlanders and allowed them to shoot 40 percent from three-point range.