The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Butler Bulldogs 76-61 Tuesday night at the Finneran Pavilion. With the victory, the Wildcats improve to 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big East. The Bulldogs fall to 15-4 overall and 3-3 in the Big East.
“That was a good game for us… Butler, their discipline, their toughness, always gives us trouble but it’s always a good team that we learn from,” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said. “A really good defensive effort on our part.”
The Bulldogs completely locked down the Wildcats to start the game, getting out to an 8-2 lead while holding Villanova to just 1-11 shooting from the field.
Butler wasn’t too sharp on offense either, however, and sophomore Saddiq Bey and freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl hit back to back threes to tie the game at eight. Junior Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, playing after a DNP-Coach’s Decision in the win over Connecticut, hit a layup to give Villanova a 10-8 lead heading into the under-12 timeout in the first half.
Villanova continued their turnaround, going on a 15-3 run to take a 17-11 lead. Butler freshman Khalif Battle ended the run with a three, but Villanova went into the under-eight timeout with a 21-16 advantage after a Robinson-Earl elbow jumper.
Robinson-Earl finished with his sixth double-double of the season and his college career thus far, totaling 12 points on 5-7 shooting from the field and 1-3 shooting from three to go along with 14 rebounds.
Three’s from freshman Justin Moore and Bey gave Villanova their largest lead at 27-18, but Butler responded with a quick 6-0 run to close the gap to 27-24.
Bey and Moore were two of five Wildcats who finished in double figures in the scoring column. They both totaled 14 points, while Bey did on 4-14 shooting from the field and 4-6 from three whole Moore was 4-9 from the field and 2-4 from deep. They also each contributed three assists.
After struggling for a few games, Moore was back in double digits in scoring and Wright was happy about it “I don’t know if we did anything, in particular, to get him going again but we need him going,” Wright said. “That’s really going to be the strength of our team, having multiple guys that can score and have balance.”
The Wildcats had one more run in them in the first half, outscoring the Bulldogs 9-2 the rest of the way and leading 36-26 heading into the half.
Villanova, specifically Bey, wasted no time coming out of the break. The Largo, Maryland native hit a three and a four-point play to start the second half and balloon the Wildcats lead to 43-26.
Butler wasn’t going to go away, however, and senior guard Kamar Baldwin led the charge. After Villanova took a 17-point lead, Baldwin scored 10 points and Butler went on an 8-0 run as a team to close the Wildcat lead to just 49-45.
A three-point play from junior Collin Gillespie and a three from Moore was part of a 7-0 Wildcat run that expanded the Villanova lead back to double digits at 56-45.
Both offenses went cold at that point, with Villanova making just 1 of their last 7 field goals, and the Bulldogs making just 1 of their last 10.
The offenses started to get back on track and Butler cut the lead to just nine, but Samuels scored six late points and Gillespie hit two free throws to make the lead 64-51.
Samuels was the Wildcats leading scorer, finishing with 20 points on 5-13 shooting from the field and going 9-10 from the foul line and grabbing seven rebounds.
The lead was too large for Butler to overcome and Villanova hit their free throws at the end.
As a team, Villanova went 9-25 from three (36%), but 21-23 (91.3%) from the foul line. They were able to hold Butler to 5-20 (25%) from three and allowed the Bulldogs to only attempt eight free throws, of which they made just four (50%).
After a difficult start to the season on the defensive side of the ball, Villanova has made strides on that end that are crucial to its success. “We have not been really efficient offensively,” Wright said. “We’ve done a good job of defending and rebounding… Our defense and rebounding that can be consistent every night and it’s getting better.”
Villanova returns to action on Saturday in their first away game in a few weeks when they travel to Providence and face the Friars at 1:00 p.m.