PHILADELPHIA -- Jay Wright had flashbacks to the 1980s watching his team fight through a tough win.
Darrun Hilliard scored 18 points, Ryan Arcidiacono had 12 and No. 9 Villanova beat St. John's 57-54 on Saturday.
It was the second straight win for Villanova (24-3, 12-2 Big East) since its second loss of the season to No. 11 Creighton.
"That was old-school, Big East basketball," Wright said. "Ugly. Great defense. Physical. You had to be physically and mentally tough to play that game. It was the Big East. I'm glad to see our conference at that level. It was just the kind of game in the `80s when I was an assistant here."
"It was a Big East battle right to the end," Red Storm coach Steve Lavin said. "We punched and counter-punched right until the end in a hostile environment."
Arcidiacono banked a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to give Villanova a 53-50 lead with 3:43 left. After the Red Storm missed a shot, JayVaughn Pinkston grabbed two key offensive rebounds for the Wildcats and Hilliard made a free throw.
"The shot clock was at 6 and I thought I could get a rhythm 3, but it was contested and I had got a lot of arc under it," Arcidiacono said. "It was all luck. I had to take it with confidence and it went in for me."
St. John's went 3:36 without a point before Sampson's free throw with 1:14 remaining. Arcidiacono then threw away the inbound pass following a timeout, and Harrison made a driving layup to cut it to 54-53. Daniel Ochefu made one of two free throws to give Villanova a 2-point lead with 34 seconds left.
With a chance to tie or give the Red Storm a lead, Phil Greene IV was called for traveling with 14 seconds to go. Arcidiacono's free throw made it 56-53. But the Red Storm couldn't get a 3-point shot off and Harrison was fouled going for a layup with 1.5 seconds left. He made the first free throw and purposely missed the second, but a lane violation gave the ball to Villanova.
Josh Hart made one free throw and the Red Storm missed a desperation 3-point shot at the buzzer.
"This is what we do, this is what we prepare for in practice," Hilliard said. "We don't prepare for coming out and hitting every shot. We prepare for the most difficult situations."
St. John's came in allowing the second-fewest points in the nation (68.0). They also had the top field goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense. It showed as the Red Storm forced 15 turnovers and held the Wildcats 23 points below their average (80.7). The Wildcats tied for the fewest points they have scored in a win this season.
"It was a really good defensive performance for us," Wright said. "Steve had a good game plan for defending us and we couldn't score. There are some really good players on both sides."
After both teams traded misses and turnovers for 2 minutes, Bell drained another 3 for a 50-47 with 5:52 left.
Villanova, which beat St. John's 74-67 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11, jumped to an 8-0 lead behind two 3s by Hilliard. The Red Storm scored the next nine points and the teams played a tight, defensive first half that ended with Villanova leading 28-27.