A 17-3 scorching start for the Villanova Wildcats and a heroic 28-point performance by Eric Dixon, unfortunately, was not enough for the ‘Cats to escape Hinkle magic.
Despite leading by 11 entering the final 4:30 of regulation, the Wildcats squandered their lead, as a resilient Butler team caught fire behind D.J. Davis and forced overtime — twice.
In the end, the Bulldogs closed double-overtime on a 14-3 run, pulling ahead to complete the comeback for an 88-81 victory.
“Really proud of the way our guys came out and grinded,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said in his opening remarks. “Thought we came out and had the right mindset. Kept battling in a tough Big East game. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we wanted.”
Posh Alexander hit the go-ahead layup with 45 seconds remaining, and Davis followed with a pair of free throws.
Dixon would hit a three-point shot to make it a one-point game with 25 seconds left, but that would be the closest the ‘Cats would get and their final made shot of the night. Butler got the necessary stops and sank the free throws needed to ice the game.
“You just got to keep grinding,” Neptune said of his post-game message to the players after a game slips away. “Long year, long season. On the road in the Big East, tough conference, probably the best basketball conference in the country, so we got to keep grinding. Move onto the next game, and get better.”
It was a bitter ending to the game, which originally had ‘Nova pouncing on the Bulldogs and getting off to one of their hottest starts of the season, as they raced out to a 17-3 lead through the first nine minutes.
Butler eventually settled in offensively, but the Wildcats held onto a 36-27 halftime lead.
In the second half, D.J. Davis led the comeback efforts for the Bulldogs, after a scoreless showing to start.
Davis scored all 28 of his points in the second half and the overtime periods. The UC-Irvine transfer drilled five 3-pointers over the final six minutes to spearhead the comeback.
“They have good players over there,” Neptune said of Butler’s second-half play. “They got out in transition a little bit. Screening action that got them downhill and they got key shots.”
He made his last three to make it a 64-62 game, with 1:01 left in regulation. After an empty-handed possession by the ‘Cats, Jahmyl Telfort drove inside and got the game-tying dunk with five seconds left to bring overtime.
In the first overtime period, T.J. Bamba made a three-pointer that gave the ‘Cats a 72-68 lead with 2:04 left. Villanova would not hit another shot for the remainder of the period. Davis got a jumper to drop to make it a one-basket game.
Villanova nearly hung on for the win, but Davis would get another game-saving shot to force a second overtime period. He drove inside and was uncontested for an easy layup to make it 72-72. Justin Moore would miss another shot at the buzzer, and the game would go into the second overtime period, which would be the bitter end for the ‘Cats.
“They made good plays,” said Neptune, when assessing the defensive measures when Butler got the two game-tying baskets at the end of regulation and first overtime. “We tried to stay in front of them, but they just made a good play.”
Dixon led ‘Nova with 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting, which also included four made 3-pointers, six boards, five assists and two blocks.
“This is the season — nothing is given to you,” Dixon said. “You gotta come in every single day and work hard. Nothing is just going to happen. You can’t just wake up and then it’ll happen for you. Come back tomorrow, get better and putting effort in and we’ll see where it pushes you.”
Bamba finished with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Tyler Burton had a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double and shot 6-of-8 on the floor. Hakim Hart was placed into the starting five in place of Mark Armstrong, and he had 10 points and six boards. Armstrong led the bench with eight points and four assists.
“Just wanted to give him a chance,” Neptune said of starting Hart instead of Armstrong. “He’s been grinding over the last couple of weeks, and just wanted to give him a chance.”
Outside of Dixon, Villanova shot just 3-of-15 (20%) from beyond the arc. The ‘Cats led for nearly 45 minutes of the game, while Butler didn’t even take its first lead until the opening moments of the first overtime period.
It was brief though, and the Bulldogs would only lead for a total of 68 seconds of the game, when they snatched the game away and sealed it in the second overtime period.
For Butler, Davis had 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting (50%). Jahmyl Telfort had a 22-point, 11-rebound double-double, with two steals and a block. Pierre Brooks had 13 points, six boards and two steals. Posh Alexander had 12 points and shot 3-of-13, but had crucial free throws and plays late. He also had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
With the loss, Villanova drops to 11-9 overall and 4-5 in Big East competition. Villanova has now lost five of its last seven games against Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Wildcats have dropped their fourth-straight game, and will return to action on Tuesday, when they return home to host Marquette. That game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET.