Leading up to Wednesday, Villanova denied revenge was on its mind. Butler had broken the school’s longest winning streak at Hinkle Fieldhouse back on Jan. 4, the Wildcats insisted that the game was being treated like any other. However, perhaps the extra motivation of payback would have been effective, as for the first time in over four years, Villanova lost to Butler in the Pavilion by the score of 74-66.
“To come here and win when they were 48-0 at the Pavilion is a great testament to our guys,” Butler head coach Chris Holtmann said. “We played with composure and made plays down the stretch.”
Villanova came into the game ranked as the second-best team in the country, but came out flat. Butler jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, and although the Wildcats had taken the lead at the half, they never looked like their usual selves. Senior starting center Darryl Reynolds (rib) missed his fourth straight game, leaving Villanova with only six regular rotation players (freshman big man Dylan Painter logged one minute).
“We’ve been teetering on this, but Butler just came in and really executed,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, in regards to playing with a short rotation. “Great job to their defensive game plan and then offensively, finding their shooters.”
Despite this, Villanova was able to hold the lead for most of the game once it got out in front. It seemed like the Wildcats were just going to pull away, as they led 49-42 with 10:30 remaining in the second half.
From there, Kelan Martin helped spark a resilient comeback and the Bulldogs responded with an 18-0 run to quickly turn the tide and take a 60-49 lead. Martin finished with 22 points on eleven shots, including a trio of crucial baskets from beyond the arc. Big man Andrew Chrabascz finished with eight rebounds and seven assists as well as an instrumental part of breaking Villanova’s full court press.
Once the Wildcats fell behind, they could not regain the lead. The closest they would ever get was bringing the game within four on a couple occasions, but was unable to make the big shots and convert the necessary free throws to get any closer than that.
However, there were some positive aspects for the Wildcats to take home. Sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson continued his ascendance to stardom in conference play, finishing with 24 points and four rebounds.
Wright had nothing but positive things to say about Brunson, remarking “Defenders have been focusing a lot on stopping Josh [Hart] and Kris [Jenkins], and Jalen’s been able to utilize that in running the offense”.
Hart also had a usually stellar all-around game, finishing with 18 points and 6 rebounds. However, Hart, who has made 80 percent of his free throws this season, was 0-for-4 from the line, including missing two front ends of one-and-ones that ended up making the difference in the game.
The loss drops the Wildcats to 26-3 and 13-3 in conference play.
Up next is Senior Night on Saturday against the Creighton Blue Jays. This will be the last home game in the careers of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds, who are now 45-1 in their collegiate careers at the Pavilion. Their opponents are currently embroiled in scandal, as star point guard Maurice Watson Jr., who is out for the season with a torn ACL, was suspended on Wednesday for “alleged actions that are contrary to University policies and core values” in a statement released by the university. The Wildcats clinch the Big East regular season title with either a win on Saturday or a Butler loss on Sunday.