Villanova continues its reign as boss of the Big East, and all is right with the world. The unofficial coronation as top team in the league came in dramatic fashion, of course. We Nova Nationers were finally treated to a game that truly came down to the last seconds, after a season of satisfying yet almost boring blowouts. This win—perhaps the most impressive of the season so far—not only reminded us how good this team is in close games, but reminded us what Villanova basketball is like.
Victory was not easy, nor was it expected to be in Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, that storied mecca of Hoosiers fame. The Hoosiers who packed Hinkle to the rafters tried in vain to wake up the echoes of Butler’s recent success, but the magic embedded in the storied fieldhouse was not enough to overcome Villanova. The Wildcats were simply the better team on the court by the time the old scoreboard at center court struck zero.
The game itself was a back-and-forth affair defined by momentum swings. One team would go on a run to take a commanding lead, only to have the other storm back into contention, a process repeated on end until the final minute. It was, in other words, a bona fide basketball drama.
A defensive battle ensued immediately after the curtains were drawn. The low scoring action transitioned into a close game until Villanova first took a substantial lead, only to be followed by a Butler comeback which saw the Bulldogs take a confident lead into halftime.
It was Jay Wright and his Main Liners who were able to make the necessary adjustments in the locker room, as Villanova stormed back to take the lead out of the second half gate. That lead would never be relinquished again, but it was ever in jeopardy. The last minutes saw one last surge of Villanova offense, with key stops on the other end to preserve victory.
If the game we witnessed can be called a drama, then Josh Hart was its hero. Both Daniel Ochefu and Jalen Brunson were benched with four fouls each when Butler cut Villanova’s lead down to one. Ryan Arcidiacono’s recently hot hand had cooled in the Indiana frost, and Kris Jenkins was limited to five points in 32 minutes playing time. With screaming Butler fans breathing down the away team’s neck, Villanova needed a hero. Hart single-handedly rescued his team from dire straits by scoring the next ten points. His contribution at this crucial time cannot be overstated. Every win is a team win, but for this win the team has Hart to thank.
Villanova has again proven it can beat the best in the conference, even with a target on its back and in hostile road environments. The team that wins the Big East is all too often not necessarily the most talented team, but the mentally toughest. League play is a grueling gauntlet, especially this year with four teams in the top 25. If Villanova can maintain its steady redoubts of challengers to the throne, the Big East will again be ours to lose. And, as the team proved to us with its performance last night, I think Villanova can handle the challenge just fine.