Yes, Butler did it—again!
And with the Bulldogs’ 74-66 win over Villanova very late Wednesday night, the Wildcats’ 48-game winning streak in their usual cozy Pavilion came to an end. Not only that, it marked the first time in their stellar careers Nova seniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins left the building on the short end.
So was this simply a blip on the 26-3 No. 2 ranked Cats’ radar screen? A bad night against the lone opponent that seems to match up well against them, having previously knocked off Jay Wright’s team 66-58 Jan. 4? Or should more be read into it?
Naturally, Wright, Hart and Jalen Brunson, who scored a game high 24 points, would prefer the former.
“Sometimes you come into a game and the other team plays better,” said a philosophical Wright, after an improbable 18-0 Butler run over a five-and-a-half minute span in the final 10 minutes proved his team’s undoing. “You try everything.Our guys competed to the end. We just ran into a team that played better than us tonight.”
On the other hand maybe the Cats were simply due for a clunker. Having dispatched Xavier, DePaul and Seton Hall on the road by a combined 51 points despite playing without injured center Darryl Reynolds, it seemed only a matter of time before ‘Nova’s depth and lack of size would catch up with them.
With Reynolds down Villanova’s essentially been forced to go with a six-man rotation, plugging soph Eric Paschal into Reynolds’ spot. That left versatile Donte DiVincenzo as Wright’s only option off the bench, though freshman Dylan Painter has occasionally gotten the call.
Of course, Wright wasn’t buying that, either.
“I don’t think so,” said Wright, following Nova’s first Pavilion loss since falling 55-52 to Providence in February 2013, right before the current seniors arrived on campus. “We’ve been in these games before and done this before. Our guys are in great shape. I just think they came in and really executed offensively and defensively. They just guard us really well and we don’t handle their physicality.We turned the ball over [15 turnovers], only had eight assists and couldn’t get any offensive rebounds.”
But until that 18-0 eruption which turned a 49-42 ‘Nova lead mark into a 60-49 deficit, it appeared the Wildcats were well on their way to overcoming those deficiencies and wrapping up the Big East regular season title in the process. Instead, now they’ll have to wonder how far this might drop them in the rankings and more important, if it might cost the defending champs a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament rolls around in a few weeks.
As far as Hart and Brunson are concerned, it simply means they need to be better prepared when Creighton comes to town Saturday.
“It’s over now. We just have to learn from it,” said Hart, who scored 18, but uncharacteristically missed all four of his free throws, including a pair of one-on-ones. “When you lose it’s a tough pill to swallow, no matter what.And you never like to lose at home.”
With that streak unexpectedly over, the Wildcats want to maintain one other distinction when they take the court for their final home game on Senior Day. They haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2013.
“I’m really proud of them,” said Wright, whose senior class will take a 123-16 record onto the court versus the Blue Jays. “We have great seniors and they’ll look back on this later.”
For now, though, they just want to get the bad taste of defeat out of their mouths as quickly as possible. “We have to have better attention to detail,” said Hart, after watching the Bulldogs shoot 15-for-25, 60 percentin the second half, with Kelan Martin coming off the bench to score 22 points and lead the way. “On the defensive end we got exposed — and that starts with me.”
It ended with Butler, no stranger to winning big games in recent years, celebrating on the Pavilion floor, a rare sight.
The question is: Will that serve as a wakeup call for the Wildcats or a preview of what’s to come?