The Villanova Wildcats faced off with the Butler Bulldogs on Wednesday night looking to clinch the outright Big East regular season title for the 4th straight season. Back on January 4th, the Bulldogs handed Nova one of their two conference losses, 66-58. The ‘Cats shot 37.3% from the field in that contest and only knocked down 6-26 from three point range.
History appeared to repeat itself, as the ‘Cats fell to Butler at home 74-66 snapping their 48 game win streak at the Pavilion. The loss is also the first at the Pavilion for seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds. Once again, Nova struggled from 3-point range shooting 6-24 and just couldn’t crack the Butler defense. The team appeared off their game for most of the night with uncharacteristic turnovers, key missed free throws, blown finishes, and poor defensive rotations at times. While the Bulldogs deserve credit and certainly put the pressure on, the ‘Cats appeared to beat themselves for much of the game.
The ‘Cats got off to a slow start out of the gates as they were held scoreless for the first 4:30. Butler took advantage by jumping out to an early 8-0 lead. Avery Woodson knocked down a 3 to start the scoring for the Bulldogs. After another bucket, Nova had a bad turnover that led to an easy and-1 run out for Tyler Wideman.
Coach Wright settled the team down after the first media timeout. Jalen Brunson finally broke the drought for the ‘Cats knocking down his patented mid range J. Eric Paschall crashed the boards hard for an easy put back on the following possession to make it 8-4 Butler with 14 minutes left in the half. Brunson came right back with a 3 point play and another drive and finish. The Bulldogs answered with a Kelan Martin 3 ball and a layup from Andrew Chrabascz to sustain the Butler lead at 13-9.
The sloppy play continued on both ends as each team had multiple uncharacteristic turnovers. At the under 8 timeout, Butler maintained an 18-15 lead after the teams traded buckets. Nova was looking for a spark out of the timeout and Josh Hart provided it. The National Player of the Year candidate scored 5 straight points for the ‘Cats. Butler kept answering as they held onto a 22-20 lead with 4 minutes left in the half.
Donte DiVincenzo tied the game up for the first time with 1:30 left in the half after skying for an offensive rebound. After a jumper by Kamar Baldwin, Jalen Brunson answered immediately with a 3 ball to give Nova their first lead of the night at 27-26. Out of a Butler timeout, Kelan Martin regained the lead for the Dogs with a smooth floater in the lane. Jay Wright countered with a timeout of his own to get one final good shot. Jalen Brunson answered the call again, finishing on a tough drive to give the ‘Cats a 29-28 lead at the half.
It was a half of basketball to forget for both teams, but especially for the Wildcats. While they shot a respectable 46% from the field, they committed 10 turnovers with many being unforced. Jalen Brunson continued his elite play of late, carrying the team with 14 points on 6-8 shooting at the break. Freshman phenom Kamar Baldwin paced the Bulldogs with 11 points.
Jalen Brunson picked up right where he left off to start the second half, knocking down a mid-range jumper to get the scoring started. George Washington transfer, Keithan Savage, immediately answered with a three pointer to tie the game at 31. After another Nova turnover, Kamar Baldwin regained the lead for the Bulldogs on a tough angled layup.
Big Smoove finally got into the action, stroking one from distance to give Nova the lead 34-33. An Eric Paschall putback extended the lead to 3 at the media timeout. Butler would not allow the ‘Cats to pull away as Avery Woodson knocked down another corner 3 to tie the game at 36.
Jalen Brunson responded once again completing a 3 point play to put Nova back on top. After a Butler turnover on the ensuing possession, Josh Hart got a run out for a two handed jam causing the crowd to really erupt for the first time all game. The fans started to get into the game and the players fed off the energy. Josh Hart knocked down a three on the next play to give the ‘Cats their largest lead of the night at 44-36.
The experienced Bulldogs showed no fear as Avery Woodson answered the Nova run with his 3rd three pointer of the night. After a timeout, Kris Jenkins dished out a perfect backdoor pass for a Mikal Bridges layup right as the shot clock was expiring to push the lead up to 7 with 12 minutes to go in the game.
Butler countered with a 10-3 run to tie the game at 49 fueled by a pair of threes from Kelan Martin and Tyler Lewis. The run continued as Savage finished with an easy layup to give Butler the lead back. On the next trip down the floor, the ‘Cats forced two missed shots but allowed consecutive offensive rebounds until Chrabascz scored to extend the Butler lead to 53-49.
Meanwhile the offense completely stalled as the ‘Cats were in the midst of a 5+ minute scoring drought. Butler took full advantage, converting on back to back layups to extend the lead to a game high at 57-49. After another Nova miss, the onslaught continued with a Kelan Martin 3 to make it an 18-0 Butler run.
Jalen Brunson finally ended the run with another old fashioned 3-point play. Divincenzo stole the in-bounds pass and scored to get the crowd right back into the game. After another Divincenzo steal, Eric Paschall failed to hit a wide open corner three to keep the run going. The ‘Cats cut the deficit down to 60-54 at the media timeout with 3:21 seconds left.
Tyler Lewis knocked down a floater out of the timeout to extend the Butler lead to 8. On the next Nova possession, Josh Hart got to the line for a one and one, but missed the front end. Butler called timeout with 2:15 left in the game, leading 62-54. The ‘Cats D forced a shot clock violation. The next trip down the court, Jalen Brunson went to the line and missed another front end. The sequence summed up a completely off night for the Wildcats as two of the most poised players in the country missed front ends at a key moment in the game.
The Bulldogs were able to close out the game at the free throw line from there, withstanding a small Nova run that was too little too late. The game ended with a final score of 74-66.
It was an uncharacteristic night for the Wildcats shooting 6-24 from 3, missing 6 key free throws, and turning it over 15 times. Brunson paced the ‘Cats with 24 and Hart added a high volume 18. There was little help to be had otherwise as Jenkins, Bridges, and DiVincenzo really struggled to get anything going.
After the game, Coach Wright gave Butler a lot of credit, citing their defensive physicality and game plan as reasons for the outcome. Josh Hart admitted his first loss at the Pavilion “stings” and took full responsibility for the poor defensive effort for the ‘Cats. The team will play Creighton in the Pavilion again on Saturday, who also dropped a home game tonight against Providence.