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Butler upsets No. 8 Villanova, 73-61

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The Wildcats had another unpleasant experience at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

There’s just something about Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The No. 8 Villanova Wildcats fell to the Butler Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon, 73-61.

Jay Wright and the ‘Cats are now 4-4 at the historic venue since Butler joined the Big East, and they’ve lost in four of their last five trips there.

“Obviously a disappointing game for us, but I think most of the credit goes to Butler,” Wright said. “It was actually fun playing in that atmosphere, but it wasn’t fun watching how we were playing in it.

“They were outstanding. Their guards just dominated the game. I know (Bryce) Golden and (Bryce) Nze did a good job, but a lot of htat came from their guards, specifically (Jair) Bolden and (Chuck) Harris. We just couldn’t control them.”

After a back-and-forth start, with senior Collin Gillespie and freshman Chuck Harris finding a rhythm early for their respective teams, the ‘Cats started to go cold and the Bulldogs promptly took advantage.

Butler used a 11-0 first half run which helped build a 34-24 lead at half.

The shooting woes from deep continued after the break, and while the ‘Cats showed some glimpses of improved defense, they couldn’t get going.

“I think the credit goes to them,” Wright said. “I thought the guards did a good job defensively. Teams that get up in us and are physical, that’s bothered us. They were very in us, physical, and it affected us. ... They just played us one-on-one, and say, ‘Go ahead.’

“None of us were really aggressive of physical enough to beat ‘em one-on-one or to force help. That’s why I give their physicality a lot of credit.”

Villanova battled, but whenever it seemed to find a rhythm, the Bulldogs answered back with big shots and defensive stands to halt their momentum.

A Justin Moore layup cut it to five, with 14:14 remaining in the game, the closest Villanova ever got to catching Butler, but the deficit teetered between single and double digits for the remainder of the game.

“Just the consistency defensively,” Wright said of what prevented his team from taking the lead. “We put some good defensive possessions together, then we broke down. ... Just us not being on top of our game to make those adjustments and execute them. Adjustments all sound great, but sometimes your adjustments can confuse your team of you’re not on top of it.

“... We were just a step behind. We’re not there defensively where we do the things we want to do. We just gotta keep working on it and getting better.”

Butler seemingly put the game out of reach with back-to-back threes by Chuck Harris and Jair Bolden, which made it a 14-point game with under three minutes left.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl paced the ‘Cats with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Collin Gillespie had 14 points, but had a quiet second half. Caleb Daniels and Justin Moore finished with 10 points apiece.

As a team, the ‘Cats shot just 2-of-27 (7.4%) from beyond the arc, including 14 consecutive missed threes to end the game.

“We’re just living with the shots that we take, staying confident and aggressive on the offensive end, but it was on the defensive end,” Robinson-Earl said of the Wildcats’ problems today.

With the loss, ‘Nova drops to 15-4 and 10-3 in Big East play.

For Butler, Harris, a freshman guard, had a game-high 20 points. Bolden finished with 15 points. Bryce Nze had a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double, with five assists. Bryce Golden had all of his 13 points in the second half alone.

The Bulldogs played without two key players, Aaron Thompson and Christian David, who were out with an injury.

The Bulldogs improve to 9-13 overall, and 8-11 in Big East play.

“Very different game today,” said Robinson-Earl, alluding to Villanova’s 85-66 win on Dec. 16. “Obviously, it’s shown that their freshmen have gotten a lot better and their seniors and juniors have done a good job of helping them out.”

The ‘Cats will try to regroup on Wednesday’s Senior Night, when they hosts a Creighton Bluejays team that will also be coming off of a loss. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.