Butler vs. No. 1 Villanova: Beyond the box score

Kelan Martin looks to grab a rebound against Xavier. Martin’s posted at least 30 points in Butler’s last two games, including 30 in the loss to Villanova. Collegian file photo.

JOSHUA DOERING | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR | jdoering@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team came up short for a second straight game, this time against Villanova. Butler had a really good first half led by Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin, who combined for 55 of the Bulldogs’ 75 points. In the end, Villanova’s surge in the second half was too much for Butler to overcome. Here are three takeaways.

1. Butler didn’t let things get out of hand early.

Considering that Villanova was playing at home, had lost three straight to Butler and were coming off a loss to St. John’s, this could have gotten ugly very quickly. Instead, the Bulldogs made their first four field goals and five of their first six 3-pointers. As a result, Butler got out to an early lead and didn’t trail for the entire first half. The quick start also didn’t allow the crowd to be much of an issue.

After the sluggish start against Xavier really hurt the Bulldogs, it was promising to see Butler make sure it didn’t happen again in this game. It was clear the team had moved on from the overtime loss on Tuesday and came ready to play. Simply getting into the right mindset following a tough loss is a real challenge. Give the Bulldogs credit for responding in such a positive manner.

2. The Bulldogs missed a chance to take control in the first half.

When Villanova only makes three of their nine 3-point attempts in the first half and Butler makes seven of 13, that has to translate to a halftime lead of more than three points. The Wildcats were down two starters for this game, putting more pressure on everyone else. Mikal Bridges picked up his second foul with over five minutes left in the first half. Butler didn’t attack him as much as they should have and he got into the break without picking up a third.

Had Bridges been whistled for a third foul, the Wildcats would’ve been in a tough spot. They’re not an incredibly deep team and inexperienced players would be forced to step into larger roles, which Butler could’ve taken advantage of. The fact that the Bulldogs didn’t close the half well and allowed Villanova to build momentum just compounded the problem. The Wildcats were going to make a run, but the Bulldogs needed to be in a much better position to deal with it.

3. Two straight losses aren’t a big deal.

Losses to two teams that have been in the top 10 almost the entire season isn’t going to hurt Butler’s resume too much. Of course, it’s not ideal, but defeating Xavier or Villanova is no easy task. Butler was in both games and showed they can play with anyone. Every game left on the Bulldogs’ schedule is absolutely winnable, starting with two home games next week. There’s no reason at all to worry about this team.

Winning their two home games against Georgetown and Providence guarantees Butler won’t have a losing record in conference. It was clear this part of the schedule was going to be incredibly challenging, which is why it was so important for the Bulldogs to rack up wins during the lighter portion of their Big East slate. They did, and so they are still in really good position if they can finish out the regular season on a strong note.

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