There was all kinds of hype surrounding Saturday’s matchup between No. 6 Villanova and No. 18 Butler, and fans certainly got their money’s worth. The Wildcats (23-2 overall, 10-2 Big East) came away with a 68-65 win after a typical, scrappy Big East game.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright praised the Bulldogs for taking his team right down to the wire. He said they had to adjust their game to be able to pull out the win that leaves his Wildcats with a two-game lead over Butler.
“You just have so much respect for your opponent when they take you to the limit,” Wright said. “Butler is very well coached, they have great defensive schemes, and what you do well, they’re going to take away.”
Trailing 62-60, senior guard Alex Barlow hit a three pointer to give the Bulldogs (18-7, 8-4) the lead, and send a sold-out, whited-out Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd into a frenzy.
After a pair of stops on each end, senior guard Darrun Hilliard hit a pair of free throws to put the Wildcats back on top. They then got a stop, only to have Hilliard turn the ball over with 27 seconds to go on a double dribble.
Junior Roosevelt Jones got the call for the Bulldogs, driving down the right side of the lane to hit a layup and tie the game at 65 with 18 seconds to go.
As two defenders closed in on junior Ryan Arcidiacano, he pump faked and dished to Hilliard, who hit a three pointer with 1.2 seconds left to give Wildcats a 68-65 lead.
“[Hilliard was] certainly not the guy we wanted to leave open in that situation, but we had a couple guys raise up when Arcidiacano went for that shot,” Butler head coach Chris Holtmann said.
Then Holtmann drew up a full-court hook and ladder play, but freshman Kelan Martin’s buzzer-beating three hit the back of the rim, and the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak came to an end.
Hilliard finished with a game-high 31 points, a career best for him. He went 8-for-13 from behind the three-point line.
First half struggles
Both teams struggled to shoot the ball in the first half. The Wildcats went 11-for-30 from the field in the half, while the Bulldogs went 8-for-27.
Butler’s leading scorer Kellen Dunham had just five points in the first half before finishing with 19 on the night. Barlow also had 19 for the Bulldogs.
Dunham said he was able to settle in after gaining confidence early in the second half.
“Honestly, I needed to take a few breaths and calm myself down in the first half,” Dunham said. “I think in the second half I was able to settle down, and it was nice to see some free throws go down.”
Hilliard, however didn’t have much of a problem getting things going in the first half. He was 3-for-6 from deep, finishing with 11 points at the break. He exploded for 20 second-half points, shooting 5-of-7 from deep, including his dagger late in the game.
Holtmann said the Bulldogs just came up a few plays short in a hard-fought game.
“It’s obviously a tough one for us, a tough one to swallow,” Holtmann said. “They made more plays tonight, and they were the better team tonight.
He said the Wildcats used their experience to pull out the victory
They have a veteran group,” Holtmann said. “I’ve watched a lot of games when they’ve played on the road, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them lose their poise.”
Senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston was the only other Wildcat in double figures, with 12.
Sophomore forward Andrew Chrabascz hurt his right hand early in the second half, but returned late in the game wearing a brace. He scored four of his eight points after returning from the locker room, also coming up with a block and a rebound down the stretch.
Holtmann said Chrabascz is getting X-rays on his hand Saturday night and they will know more after that, but he said he didn’t think it looked good.
The Bulldogs have little time to rest as they head to Omaha, Neb. Monday to take on Creighton. Butler beat the Bluejays 64-61 at home on Jan. 21.
The Bluejays (12-14, 3-10) topped Marquette 77-70 Saturday at home. They have won three of their last five games after starting 0-8 in Big East play.
Holtmann said it will be a challenge preparing for Monday’s game.