Seth Hinrichs scored a team-high 15 points for Lafayette, which led by as many as six in the second half. The Leopards, picked to finish second in the Patriot League, also got 13 points from Joey Ptasinski and 11 from Bryce Scott.
Villanova, which returns four starters from a team that last year went 20-14 and reached the NCAA tournament for the eighth time in the last nine seasons, shot 38.9 percent from the field and just 16.7 percent from 3-point range.
But down the stretch, the Wildcats made a few timely shots, got to the free throw line and rode the powerful inside play of Pinkston, who poured in 14 of his 22 points in the second half.
Villanova closed the game on a 28-12 run.
Bell scored Villanova's first 13 points of the season, a stretch that began with two 3-pointers and was capped by a one-handed alley-oop off a feed from Darrun Hilliard.
Aside from Bell's early onslaught, though, the Wildcats failed to generate much consistent offense in the first half, misfiring on 15 of the 18 3-point shots they attempted to limp into halftime with a tenuous 29-27 lead. And consecutive 3-pointers from Ptasinksi, Hinrichs and Zach Rufer gave Lafayette a 38-32 advantage four minutes into the second half.
But much to the delight of their home fans, the Wildcats clawed their way back into the contest, taking a 50-47 lead on a 3-pointer from Bell with 7:27 left in the game and extending their lead to 56-49 on a 3 from Hilliard with 5:52 remaining.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova's freshman sensation in 2012-13, didn't score until he made a twisting layup with 1:49 remaining in the game while getting fouled. The sophomore's three-point play gave Villanova a 66-56 lead and pretty much iced the game.
Lafayette freshman Nick Lindner, a native of nearby Doylestown, got the start at point guard in his collegiate debut, logging eight points and seven assists.
Villanova has won 15 of it lasts 16 games on opening night, including 11 in a row. .. Lafayette is 20-34 all-time against current Big East conference members. . Lafayette head coach Fran O'Hanlon was a former standout guard at Villanova, leading the Wildcats to two wins in the 1970 NCAA tournament as a senior. . Villanova leads the all-time series with Lafayette, 7-1, with the Leopards' only win coming in 1922, by way of forfeit.