VILLANOVA, Pa. — With 4 1/2 minutes to play, Villanova coach Jay Wright cleared his bench. A roaring applause ensued as the crowd cheered guard James Bell, who was one of three Wildcats seniors honored before the game.
By that point, the damage was done.
It wasn’t pretty early — as Wright noted — but the No. 8 Wildcats sent their seniors off the floor of the Pavilion for the final time in style, rolling to a 67-48 victory over Butler.
The 48 points were Butler’s lowest total of the year, as Villanova held the Bulldogs to 30.6 percent shooting (15 of 49).
“We played nine guys and cut the minutes down a little bit,” Wright said. “All nine guys really played well defensively. Sometimes when we get to the younger guys, defensively we have lapses.”
Villanova (25-3, 13-2 Big East) used a 21-3 run to push the score from 39-28 to 60-31 in the middle of the second half.
Five Wildcats scored during that 5:43 stretch, including forward Kris Jenkins, who sank 3-pointers on consecutive possessions.
All three Butler points during that span came from the free-throw line, as the Wildcats’ defense clamped down.
“They have multiple guys, interchangeable parts that can guard different guys,” Butler coach Brandon Miller said. “They can do a lot of switching on and off the ball. There’s not a lot of mismatches for them.”
Ten Wildcats scored Wednesday. Bell and fellow guard Darrun Hilliard led the balanced Villanova attack with 11 points apiece. Guard Ryan Arcidiacono pitched in nine points, while forwards JayVaughn Pinkston and Josh Hart added eight points apiece. Hart collected a game-high eight rebounds.
Villanova reached 25 wins for the fifth time in program history. No Villanova team has ever won 26. This year’s Wildcats still have three regular-season games remaining: home games at the Wells Fargo Center against Marquette and Georgetown, with a road matchup against DePaul sandwiched in between.
“That’s pretty cool,” an unknowing Wright said. “This is a really good group to coach. Our coaching staff really enjoys coaching these guys. It’s been a pleasure all year, but we can’t let that prevent us from driving them … to get better. That’s really our challenge.”
Bell entered Wednesday’s game needing 17 points to become the 58th Villanova player to reach the 1,000-point club. Wright removed him from the game with 4:30 left, six points shy of that mark.
Wright and Bell shared a brief moment on the sideline, though neither coach nor player was aware that the milestone was lingering.
“I had no clue,” Wright said. “That would have been nice on senior night. I probably wouldn’t have done anything different. He could have made a couple more shots.”
Bell shot just 3-for-10 on the night, including 2-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Butler (12-16, 2-14) was led by guard Kellen Dunham’s 12 points and seven rebounds. Forward Khyle Marshall added 10 points.
The first half started with poor shooting and turnovers from each side. Through the first 10 minutes, the teams were a combined 5-for-24 from the field and the score was just 10-6 in favor of Villanova.
From there, the Wildcats got hot. Villanova finished the half 10 of 28 from the floor after starting two of 12. Butler shot just 6-for-23 (26 percent) in the half.
The Wildcats got 3-pointers from Bell, Hilliard and Arcidiacono in the final 5:19 of the half. During that stretch, the Wildcats used a 16-9 run to finish with a 34-20 lead.
Dunham beat the first-half buzzer with a 3-pointer. The 20 points were Butler’s lowest first-half output of the season.
Butler players not named Marshall or Dunham shot 7 of 26 (26.9 percent) on the night.
“We didn’t play well enough to put ourselves in a position which we would like to be in and give ourselves a chance to win,” Miller said. “They made it very difficult for us to get open looks all night.”
NOTES: Before the teams met on New Year’s Eve (a 76-73 overtime win for Villanova), Butler was 10-2 and riding a five-game winning streak. Since then, the Bulldogs are 2-14. … Wednesday was Butler’s first appearance at the Pavilion. The teams have met just three times overall, with
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