Last season, the Villanova Wildcats lost twice to the Butler Bulldogs. With a new head coach and on “44” night--which honored former Butler standout Andrew Smith, who passed away from cancer--the Bulldogs stayed on top of the ‘Cats, winning 101-93.
In the first half, things were off to a slow start for the undefeated ‘Cats. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs took advantage of this quickly.
Seven minutes into the first half, the two Big East foes kept up with each other as the scoreboard read 28-28, amidst a back-and-forth shootout. However, Butler started to pull away after back-to-back threes by sophomore Kamar Baldwin.
The Wildcats needed to especially watch out for Baldwin and star forward Kelan Martin. They wreaked havoc on Villanova last year, and they gave the ‘Cats some problems.
Martin and Baldwin demonstrated their prowess, hitting big time shots and making great plays, especially from deep.
Martin led the way with 24 points, including a perfect 4-for-4 from long range. He also added the dagger to hold off the ‘Nova comeback late in the game.
As for Baldwin, he added a nice all-around effort, with 19 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.
The two players complimented each other well throughout the game. While they were definitely atop Villanova’s scouting report, it was actually the play of newcomer Paul Jorgensen that helped the Bulldogs establish control early. Jorgensen had 16 of his 23 points in the first half alone, including three baskets from beyond the arc.
The Bulldogs took a 53-45 lead at halftime. The game wasn’t out of reach, but it was certainly time for ‘Nova to dig its heels.
The key player tonight in refusing to let the ‘Cats go down without a fight was Jalen Brunson, who scored a total of 31 points. He also got some help from Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall.
Bridges held 21 total points while Paschall had 15--including an efficient 7-for-10 performance.
Throughout the second half the ‘Cats made sure to put up a fight, making a comeback, sustaining both their character and attitude in not getting shut to the floor.
Although at first, it looked doomed, as Butler had a nice start to the second half, resuming the damage dealt from the beginning. It stretched the lead to as high as 23.
Then, Villanova started to rally back. It strung together a 14-0 run to bring it back within reach.
With 5:03 left in the second half, JB had a strong finish in transition to narrow the Wildcats’ deficit to 84-76. Brunson would help trim it down to as close as six, but a few missed free throws would be costly for the comeback effort.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, as just under a minute to go in the game, panic started to show.
Both Brunson and Divincenzo missed their 3-point jump shots, as Baldwin calmly added a couple of free throws. Eventually, the final buzzer sounded, and fans rushed the court as Butler completed the upset.
Who will win the Big East? The loss tonight showed how competitive it really is and how far its grown.
Villanova giving up 100 points? Unheard of.
This week, Georgetown blew a 20-point lead over Butler, before going on to win in double overtime. Meanwhile, DePaul nearly beat Xavier.
Now Butler bests No. 1, undefeated Villanova. It could go any which way at this point.
Now, there’s only one undefeated team left in the country, with that being Arizona State. The ‘Cats need to look quickly past this loss to stay on top. They’ll have a chance to do just that when they take on the Marquette Golden Eagles on Saturday, Jan. 6. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m.