No. 13 Butler dropped its third straight game Tuesday night in Philadelphia with No. 9 Villanova picking up a 76-61 victory in a matchup of two of the Big East's top contenders.
A week ago, the Bulldogs were the No. 5 team in the country—the highest-ever in-season ranking for the program—with a star in Kamar Baldwin seemingly capable of carrying the team through March. How quickly fortunes change this college basketball season.
Following a home loss to Seton Hall and a road loss to DePaul, the Bulldogs dropped rapidly in the rankings, setting up as much of a must-win as a team can have in January.
The loss moves Butler to 15-4 (3-3 Big East) and three games back of Seton Hall for the conference lead.
Meanwhile, Villanova (15-3, 5-1 Big East) continues to roll following a setback on the road against Marquette to start January. The Wildcats have now won five in a row and are just a game back of Seton Hall—a team Villanova will still have to face twice before the season ends.
After dropping marquee matchups to then-No. 16 Ohio State, No. 24 Baylor and Marquette, the victory gives Nova a resume-building win to go along with its takedown of then-No. 1 Kansas in December. It's just the second victory against a ranked team this season for the Wildcats.
- Jermaine Samuels, F, Wildcats: 20 points, seven rebounds
- Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, Wildcats: 12 points, 14 rebounds
- Kamar Baldwin, G, Bulldogs: 21 points, two rebounds
- Bryce Nze, F, Bulldogs: 11 points, 12 rebounds, five assists
Baldwin's 2nd Half Not Enough
Kamar Baldwin connected on just two of nine field-goal attempts in a first half that ended with the Bulldogs facing a 10-point deficit. The solution to getting his game back on track was a simple one: shoot more.
Baldwin put it on himself to will Butler back into the game, even knowing he'd face a double-team off the dribble. The senior guard went 7-of-12 in the second half and brought his team within four points of the lead after sparking a 19-6 run with 11 minutes to play.
It was quite a gutsy comeback after Nova had its own 7-0 run to start the half. It was also a wasted effort. Without Baldwin able to get much support on offense, there was little else the Bulldogs could do.
Starting forward Sean McDermott played 22 minutes and tallied just two points on 11 shots.
Of course it hurt that Butler's players were having trouble staying on the court. Both Aaron Thompson (five points) and Christian David (zero points) were hobbled by injuries throughout the game. David wouldn't be able to return after hurting his left knee early in the first half. Thompson wasn't the same after landing on his hip late in the second half.
Scoring had already been a concern for the Bulldogs before Tuesday. The team has seen its points per game drop in each of its three straight losses.
Baldwin can do a lot on his own, but Butler can't succeed without manufacturing some help for him.
Bey, Robinson-Earl Lead Nova
Villanova landed forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl over the likes of Arizona, Kansas and North Carolina. It didn't take long Tuesday to figure out why he was so highly coveted. The freshman was extremely efficient, scoring on five of seven field goals while tallying 12 points and 14 assists.
It would've been easy to key on him had it not been for forward Saddiq Bey stretching the floor. Without Bey, Butler's comeback would've been a lot closer down the stretch.
Just before the Bulldogs went on a 19-6 run, Bey pulled off a 7-0 run in 50 seconds by himself—partially thanks to Butler fouling him on a three-point shot (Bey was 4-of-6 from three on the night). That gave Villanova an insurmountable 17-point lead. Bey's 37 minutes were the most of any Wildcat as head coach Jay Wright was unable to risk taking him off the floor for too long.
That much was clear from the opening tipoff as Nova went 1-of-11 from the field while Butler took an eight-point lead. Any more slip-ups would cost Villanova more than it could handle. As much as the Bulldogs fought back, there was simply no overcoming the early punch they took in the second half.
Villanova's schedule takes a small dip with a two-game road trip to Providence and St. John's beginning Saturday. The Wildcats will need to make the most of those two matchups with games against Creighton, Butler and Seton Hall all on the horizon.
Before its rematch with Nova, Butler will host Marquette at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday and then take on Georgetown and Providence as the team preps for the Wildcats to come to town and finishes out the home-and-home series.