As magical as Villanova’s 2016 was, it seemed like none of it spilled over into the start of 2017. The Wildcats who posted the greatest calendar year record ever, suffered their first loss of the season in the first game of the new year. The only magic in the air was the kind radiating from Hinkle Fieldhouse, the historic home of the Butler Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs took down the once undefeated Wildcats, winning 66-58, in front of a raucous crowd.
The game started off with superstar wing Josh Hart making a three-pointer, which seemed to be a good indicator that he would have a strong performance. Instead, Hart was in foul trouble throughout the game, only scored ten more points for the entire game, and got nearly half of his points from the free throw line. Instead, the Wildcats offense was centered around sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson, who added another great game to his breakout season. Brunson, after scoring 27 points on Sunday against Creighton, kept up his high level of play, scoring 23 points and doing his best to drag Villanova to a road victory in the deafening Hinkle Fieldhouse.
However, Brunson got very little help, with the rest of the team shooting only 28.6% from the field. Villanova was also outrebounded by the Bulldogs 33-24, with only Josh Hart (8 rebounds) grabbing more than 4 rebounds.
The Bulldogs had a balanced offensive attack, with four players in double digits, but none scoring more than 13. Star forward Kelan Martin had twelve points and six rebounds, including a crucial jumper which put Butler up by three points with only 2:17 left in the second half. From there, the Bulldogs defense won them the game, with Hart and Kris Jenkins each committing a late game turnover costing the Wildcats a chance at a 15-0 start to the season. Also helping to put the game away for Butler was senior guard Kethan Savage, who came off the bench to score 13 points. Savage sunk several crucial free throws late in the game, and although he fouled out in the last minute, the damage had already been done.
The Wildcats again missed the presence of starting shooting guard Phil Booth, who has now missed a dozen games with a knee injury. Rumors have begun to swirl that Booth will redshirt the season due to the injury, leaving the Wildcats somewhat thin if Hart or Jenkins get into foul trouble. The only players who have consistently gotten time coming off the bench are Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall, who have shown flashes of brilliance, but are also prone to going ice cold shooting spells during a game.
After tonight’s game, Villanova falls to 14-1, 2-1 in Big East play, and will in all likelihood lose their coveted #1 ranking. Next up for the Wildcats is a trip to the Wells Fargo Center to face the Marquette Golden Eagles, who are 10-4 on the season so far. The Wildcats will be looking to bounce back from their first loss in 10 months, tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.