HARTFORD, Conn. – Villanova got off to a slow start in defense of its NCAA championship against a determined, defensive-minded Saint Mary's team that came in confident after a season-defining victory.
But the Wildcats, a No. 6 seed in this NCAA South Region after an up-and-down season, have one thing no team in the field of 64 has: a pair of leaders who have won two national titles.
Phil Booth scored 20 points, fellow senior Eric Paschell added 14 and Villanova held off 11th-seeded Saint Mary's 61-57 on Thursday night.
"We're growing, our young guys are growing, but we have two seniors who do everything for us, on and off the court," coach Jay Wright said. "We're just so lucky to have them."
Sophomore Jermaine Samuels added 12 points for the Wildcats (26-9), who led for almost 33 minutes, but never by more than eight points.
"The tempo was excruciating," Wright said. "We felt going in we were going to have to grind with them."
The Gaels used the same slow pace to upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament, and it gave them a chance against Villanova in a tense opening-round matchup.
Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts each had 13 points for Saint Mary's (22-12). Ford's basket in the lane after a few nifty moves got the Gaels within six points at 61-55 with 34 seconds left.
After Paschell missed a foul shot on the other end, Fitts cut the deficit to four points with a leaner in the lane. The Gaels had two more chances in the final seconds, but Fitts hit the rim on a three-point attempt and Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey stole the ball from Ford in the final seconds to seal the win.
"We had a few games this year where we put the press on and were able to get back in the game," Ford said. "And if we get a few of those loose balls, or maybe make a three when we were down four, I think it's a different game."
Purdue 61, Old Dominion 48: Carsen Edwards scored 26 points and the third-seeded Boilermakers (24-9) coasted to victory against the Monarchs (26-9) in Hartford, Conn.
Purdue will play reigning NCAA champion Villanova, the sixth seed in the South Region, on Saturday.
Edwards, the Big Ten's leading scorer, has been slumping recently and dealing with a sore back that he insisted was fine Wednesday. The junior guard had shot 32 percent in his past 11 games, and was 7-for-33 from three-point range in his past three games.
Ahmad Caver scored 19 points and B.J. Stith had 14 for Old Dominion. The Monarchs shot 27 percent from the field in their first NCAA appearance since 2011.
The Boilermakers scored the last 11 points of the second half as ODU went stone cold. The Monarchs missed their last 11 shots of the half and went scoreless for 6:17 as Purdue took control and led 32-19 at the break.