Picked to finish seventh in the Big East preseason poll, No. 18 Butler entered Saturday’s game against No. 6 Villanova just a game out of first place in the conference standings. And having lost the first meeting between the two teams, this was a game Chris Holtmann’s team had to have if they were to make a run at the Big East regular season title.
Unfortunately for Butler, Villanova senior guard Darrun Hilliard had other ideas. Hilliard hit eight three-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points, with his final three coming with 1.5 seconds left in the game. That shot was the difference as Villanova won 68-65 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, opening up a two-game lead in the Big East.
And with the head-to-head tiebreaker they hold on Butler, Villanova’s chances of winning a second consecutive Big East regular season title are very good at this point.
Hilliard’s game-winner came as a result of some miscommunication on the part of two Butler defenders, who both went with Ryan Arcidiacono after originally trapping Hilliard. Arcidiacono, who did not score in the game, passed the ball back to a wide-open Hilliard on the right wing. And as he’d done on many occasions Saturday, Hilliard calmly knocked down the shot.
One line that’s been said about Jay Wright’s team this season is that they don’t have a bonafide “star,” with their balance being Villanova’s greatest strength as six players entered Saturday’s game averaging between 9.1 and 13.4 points per game. But on an afternoon that saw Arcidiacono go scoreless and Daniel Ochefu score just two points, Hilliard was the star that some have claimed Villanova lacks with JayVaughn Pinkston adding 12 points and seven rebounds.
Does Villanova have that one headliner whose name will be said repeatedly on highlight shows and discussed as a national Player of the Year candidate? Probably not. But what Villanova does have is multiple players capable of stepping up when the moment demands that they do. Saturday night it was Darrun Hilliard’s turn, and thanks to him the Wildcats are well on their way to a second consecutive Big East regular season title.