Senior Day was a success; Villanova got a decisive win, and each Wildcat saw time on the court. In terms of a solid outing, not so much. The Wildcats had a poor shooting day, but luckily the Butler Bulldogs barely reached to 30% shooting mark and they win 67-48. Butler's Kellen Dunham lead all scoring with 12 points and both Darrun Hilliard and James Bell had 11 each. Those 48 points were a season low for Butler.
Wright conceded he was emotional all night. "I'm bad at that. I was crying at Father Rob's pregame homily. I went to talk to the senior class and I got emotional at that. When these guys stand up on the press table, and you hear everybody get to a energy high level, it's one of my favorite traditions at Villanova."
The game didn't start out pretty. On the bright side, Tony Chennault, James Bell, and Nick McMahon all got the start tonight. The dark side was in the offense of both squads. Both Villanova and Butler started off 2-7 from the field, and into the first TV timeout Villanova took a commanding 3-2 lead. Villanova's issue was once again 3's; the team started 1-9 from behind the arc. Free throws kept this team in the game as they went 10-12. Luckily for the 'Cats, Butler had even bigger woes. From the 14:15-8:29 mark, Butler went without a single field goal. Andrew Chrabascz picked up 2 quick fouls before that first TV timeout. Going into the 2nd TV timeout, things were not much better. Villanova held a 10-4 lead, on 23.7% shooting. That rivaled Butler's 18.2% efficiency. With this trouble, the 'Cats used their rebounding to stay comfortably ahead, outrebounding the 'Dogs 12-7 at that point.
With 4:49 left in the first half, both teams' continued to miss shot after shot. For Butler, it just was not falling. They were 4-17 and only scored 11 points. For Villanova, the long ball was the main issue. The Wildcats only converted on 2-14 from 3, but luckily their 80% free throw shooting made up for some lost ground.
At the 5:21 mark, however, Villanova started putting it together. A triple by Darrun Hilliard sparked the Wildcats on a 16-9 run to end the half. From that point, both teams nearly doubled their scoring efforts from the first 75% of the first half. At the buzzer, Kellen Dunham heaved a long three falling near the corner and it banked in, and thus the Wildcats took a 34-20 lead. VU shot 35.7%, while the Bulldogs struggles immensely with only 6 made field goals. Coach Brandon Miller credits Villanova's tough defense for the offensive struggles.
"Villanova's obviously one of the best defensive teams we've faced all year. Our offense; we struggled shooting the basketball tonight when we did get open looks, but they made it very difficult. They have interchangeable parts, so that they can guard different guys. They can do a lot of switching on and off the ball. There's not a lot of mismatches."
Butler started the second half on a hot streak. They got off to a 6-2 run- all points in the paint- before calling a timeout following a Kameron Woods layup. That in turn halted their momentum as again they were held without a field goal, this time for 3:27. However, Villanova themselves only made three field goals up to the 12:33 left in the game. In that span, Daniel Ochefu picked up 2 quick fouls. However, he would later spark some more Wildcat offense with two straight draws of a foul, but converting on the basket. He would miss both free throws, however. Add in back to back Kris Jenkins threes and the Bulldogs trailed by 27 with 7 minutes to go in the contest.
Villanova would have another cold streak going scoreless from 4:49 to 1:05. Who else to break that curse by Darryl Reynolds! The 5 on the court to end the game were Reynolds, Henry Lowe, Patrick Farrell, McMahon and Kris Jenkins. To beat the shot clock, Farrell heaved a three and missed but was fouled on the shot. He missed the first two, and after the second miss the entire Villanova bench was jumping around. Even the student section- all the fans- started making more noise. Farrell sank the third and the crowd went wild.
Josh Hart had one of the best stat lines of the night, getting 8 points on 8 rebounds (6 offensive). Wright repeatedly admired his hustle. "[He brings] relentless play, especially on the glass. Relentless on transition. He's really getting good defensively. He really makes us better."
Butler has now dropped 7 straight. Coach Miller admitted this losing streak has mentally affected his team: "We always preach about not letting the last game affect the next one. When you keep getting the result that you don't want, it weighs on you a little bit."
After the game, Coach Jay Wright realized this was not a great outing. "I know it wasn't pretty," he started in his press conference, "but we liked it. Butler is a tough, scrappy team that just isn't going to let you play pretty, and you gotta find a way to grind against them. I thought our defense was really strong and I like the way our team played. I'll take that."
When Wright learned this is one of the few teams in Villanova history to win 25 games, Wright praised his group of guys. "This is a great group to coach; I've been telling you all year. Our coaching staff loves coaching these guys. But, we can't let that prevent them from driving themselves to get better."
James Bell commented that this night was tough for him, putting aside his 3-10 shooting. "I don't get to see my mom much. My dad works a lot, he really doesn't get a chance to get down that much. The toughest part was seeing my mom crying, but I knew it was time to play. We have a goal as a team."
"Being a freshman, I had less responsibilities. Now, being a senior, they're following my lead. It's interesting to see both sides." He added that it's tougher but more fun to be the senior. "Coach is on me more. I have to do everything the right way, because if I don't, they won't. And I have to keep the best attitude because it will affect the way we play."
Definitely an ugly win, but the key emphasis is on WIN. The Wildcats go undefeated at the Pavilion this year.
The next meeting for the 'Cats is Sunday vs. the Marquette Golden Eagles. It will air on CBS.