INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Harris jump-started Butler’s offense early. Jair Bolden delivered the finishing touch.
Together, the Bulldogs’ backcourt was unbeatable.
Harris scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half on Sunday and Bolden finished with 12 of his 15 in the second half to help Butler pull away for a 73-61 win over No. 8 Villanova.
“Their guards just dominated the game,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “Specifically Bolden and Harris, we just couldn’t control them.”
Harris and Bolden combined for four of Butler’s 10 3-pointers, including two in the waning moments to seal the victory.
It was a rough day for the Wildcats (15-4, 10-3 Big East), who entered the game as a 10 1/2-point favorite but made just 2 of 27 3s. Villanova was one of seven top-15 team to stumble this weekend, following losses on Saturday by No. 2 Baylor, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 11 Florida State, No. 13 Creighton and No. 14 Texas. Later Sunday, No. 4 Ohio State lost to No. 9 Iowa.
Villanova’s defeat wasn’t terribly close, either.
Butler (9-13, 8-11) swung the game with a suffocating defense that limited the Wildcats to one basket during the final seven minutes of the first half and an offensive charge fueled by Harris. That combination resulted in a 16-3 run that gave the Bulldogs a 31-20 lead. They never trailed again, winning their second straight while beating Villanova for the fourth time in the last five meetings at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“I felt like our guys deserved it,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “From start to finish, they executed the game plan, played through mistakes and played all the way through.”
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Collin Gillespie tried to rally Villanova in the second half. The Wildcats cut a 42-28 deficit in half with a 7-0 flurry and scored again after Butler called timeout to make it a five-point game with 14:14 to go.
But Bolden’s 3 stopped the run, Bryce Golden made three straight baskets for the Bulldogs and Bo Hodges made another 3 to give Butler a 54-39 lead with 10:40 left. And just when the Wildcats thought they had a chance after getting within 57-50 with 6:13 left, Harris and Bolden answered again.
Robinson-Earl finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Gillespie had 14 points.
Villanova: The loss won’t end the Wildcats’ streak of 30 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25. It could, however, impact their conference title hopes and perhaps their chances of earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Clearly, Villanova wasn’t itself during the first half – shooting 28% from the field and grabbing just one offensive rebound.
Butler: This has been largely a lost season for the Bulldogs. They struggled to find consistency between a rash of injuries and six postponed games. But the Bulldogs produced two solid performances this week by beating Seton Hall and now Villanova. If they keep it up, they could make a run in the Big East tournament.
Villanova: Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels each scored 10 points. … Villanova had six assists and two steals. … The Wildcats have lost 19 conference road games since joining the reconfigured Big East. Four have come at Butler.
Butler: Harris made five of his first eight shots and finished 7 of 14. … Bryce Nze posted his fifth double-double this season with 12 points and 11 rebounds. He also had five assists. … Golden had 13 points and six rebounds. … Butler has scored 70 points four times this season. … The Bulldogs’ last four opponents are 15 of 81 on 3s.
TWO MEN OUT
The Bulldogs have been playing short-handed for much of the season and Sunday was no exception. Starting guard Aaron Thompson missed the game with shoulder and thumb injures and forward Christian David sat out with a knee injury. Thompson and David were two of the seniors honored with highlight packages that played on the scoreboard during timeouts in what could be their final home game.
Villanova: Hosts No. 13 Creighton on Wednesday, a game that could determine the league’s regular-season champ.
Butler: Takes another extended break before closing the regular season Saturday at Creighton.