Bulldogs fall to No. 11 Villanova in Big East Opener

Matthew VanTryon | Staff Reporter

Throughout the course of the season, Butler has proved they can play with anyone. The same proved true on New Year’s Eve. A possession here or there, and Butler could’ve come away with an exclamatory win as they opened a new era in the Big East. The ball didn’t bounce their way, though, and Butler (10-3) fell to No. 11 Villlanova (12-1) 66-63 in overtime.

The first half didn’t go according to plan, as both Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall sat for most of the half with two fouls apiece. However, Butler’s young bench kept the team afloat.

Freshman Elijah Brown led all scorers with 13 points in the first half. Freshman Andrew Chrabascz added five of his own.

Butler converted on three of five from deep to start the contest.

Villanova came into the game with a prowess for shooting the three. The Wildcats averaged 28 attempts per game coming into the contest. They were limited to 1-6 in the opening half and shot 31 percent from deep in the whole game.

Villanova’s James Bell, who averaged over 16 points per game coming in, was held scoreless in the half. Villanova also aided Butler by turning the ball over four times.

Butler went into the locker room trailing 35-34.

Villanova began the second half on an 8-0 run, and the Bulldogs quickly faced their largest deficit of the game. However, the home team wouldn’t go quietly. Back-to-back threes from Dunham and Brown cut the deficit to two with over 14 minutes to play.

Brown hit a three in the corner to give Butler a 64-63 lead with just over five minutes to go.

Both offenses stalled, and Butler found themselves needing stops on the defensive end time and time again.

They got them, as Dunham hit a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 66 with just over 20 seconds to play.

Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston was a force to be reckoned with all night long in the paint. The Wildcats targeted him again as the final seconds ticked off the clock. He backed down Erik Fromm and put up a layup. In and out it went, as the game headed to overtime.  

The overtime period started poorly for Butler, as Villanova went on a 5-0 run. But Dunham was able to hit a three to keep the Bulldogs within fighting distance.

Villanova had multiple chances to ice the game at the charity stripe, but failed to do so. A Dunham layup with 15 seconds to go sent a nearly sold-out Hinkle into a frenzy.

The crowd erupted seconds later as Villanova turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds play. Butler had possession on their end of the court, down by one with 14 seconds to play.

Butler missed a jumper, and a scramble for the ball resulted in a jump ball.

Butler possession. Ten seconds to go. Another chance.

Yet Dunham couldn’t secure the inbounds pass from junior Alex Barlow. It was a turnover, and Villanova’s ball.

Butler fouled, and the visitors hit both free throws at the other end. Butler’s inbounds pass was intercepted, and fans were left wondering what exactly they had just seen unfold.

Butler head coach Brandon Miller said any loss hurts, but this one hurt more than others.

“It’s tough to lose in general, but after this one, you definitely have that sting in your stomach and that sting in your gut,” said Miller.

Close games are nothing new for this team. The game was Butler’s seventh contest decided by fewer than five points or in overtime.

Butler has lost all three of it’s contest by a combined seven points.

Miller said he is proud of his team’s effort from start to finish, as it was a game of possessions.

“I was proud of the way we responded to runs, and how we responded to adversity, but there were a number of different possessions we could have screened a little better and executed a little better,” said Miller.

One of the most crucial aspects of Butler’s game was their free throw shooting. Butler excelled at the charity stripe, hitting 17 of 19 free throws.

Butler struggled mightily defending the interior. Villanova outscored Butler in the paint 42-20, thanks in large part to Pinkston.

Villanova’s Pinkston scored a game-high 22 points.

Sophomore Kellen Dunham scored a team-high 22 points in the losing effort. Freshman Elijah Brown added a career-high 19, 13 of which came at crucial times in the first half.

Butler shot 40 percent from the floor and 36 percent from beyond the arc, while Villanova shot 50 percent from the floor and 31 percent from deep.

Butler outrebounded Villanova 34-31.

Butler’s next chance to get their first win in conference play will come on Saturday at Xavier. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 2.

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