No. 8 Villanova recovers from slow start to beat Butler
VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Patrick Farrell missed his first free throw, and was off on his second.
With only 19 seconds left in the game, the pressure was on for Farrell to make the third.
The Villanova fans stood and cheered, and his teammates were stoked, yelling from the bench at the sophomore forward that the final one would be good. Farrell practiced his motion, took a breath, released, and watched as the basketball bounced twice around the rim before it plopped through the net.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats went wild, celebrating Farrell's first point of the season like a game-winner, and not just the finishing touches of a 67-48 victory over Butler on Wednesday night.
For a team that played about 30 minutes of basketball to forget, that moment of team bonding for the deepest of deep reserves was one to remember.
"I love that," coach Jay Wright said. "That's what's special about this team."
The Wildcats (25-3, 13-2 Big East) survived one of their worst halves of the season to win for the ninth time in 10 games.
They needed almost the first 10 minutes of the game to score 10 points, missed eight of their first nine 3-point attempts, and didn't have a player reach double digits in scoring until midway through the second half.
"You've got to find a way to grind against them," Wright said. "I'll take that."
Darrun Hilliard and James Bell led them with only 11 points each and the Wildcats put up the kind of numbers that usually lead to a loss.
Not against the lowly Bulldogs (12-16, 2-14).
Butler was even worse, shooting only 26 percent in the first half, and the Bulldogs lost their seventh straight game.
The Wildcats had a small hot streak at the end of the first half, making 5 of 6 shots, to build enough of a cushion and slowly pull away.
The Wildcats fell shy of their 79.9 points per game average and played for about 35 minutes looking nothing like the team that has become one of the best in the Big East.
Each team took turns trading clunkers and clangers in the first 10 minutes, one reason the Wildcats only led 10-4. With 6 minutes left in the half, the Bulldogs and Wildcats combined for only 26 points. And no, Bo Ryan wasn't coaching either of the teams.
The Pavilion had all the atmosphere of an art museum on a sleepy Sunday morning, making this one feel more like a bad NBA preseason game than the final on-campus home game of the season. Wright did let senior reserves Nick McMahon and Tony Chennault start -- though McMahon played only 20 seconds before he was benched for Ryan Arcidiacono.
McMahon couldn't have been worse than the rest of the offense.
Villanova missed 12 of its first 15 shots, most from 3-point range. The Wildcats were determined to keep shooting 3s until they fell. Bell and Arcidiacono did hit two straight near the end of the first half for a 28-15 lead.
Butler's Kellen Dunham buried the shot of the game with a high banker for 3 that cut it to 34-20 at halftime. He led Butler with 12 points.
Hard to believe these teams needed overtime before Villanova pulled out the win in their first matchup.
"We didn't have it tonight," coach Brandon Miller said. "When you keep getting the results you don't want, it weighs on you a little bit."
Bell was the lone senior regular for the Wildcats and exchanged an emotional hug with Wright after he checked out for the final time.
"It was tough," Bell said. "I don't see my mom that much. My dad works a lot, doesn't really get the chance to get down that much. That was probably the toughest part, seeing my mom crying. Other than that, it was time to play."
Pick a stat in the first half and both teams probably wish the number could be wiped from the record book. Butler missed 8 of 10 3s; Nova missed 12 of 16. Butler had two starters who went scoreless in the half. The Wildcats shot 38 percent from the field.
But there's a reason the Wildcats have spent most of the season in the Top 25, and they showed why in the second half, going more than 25 minutes without a turnover during a 16-3 run that stretched the lead to 24 points.
Butler scored six baskets in the first half, and didn't reach seven for a second-half total until there was 1:51 left.
While the Wildcats are in the hunt for a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs need a shocking conference tournament championship to have any shot at returning for some March Madness.
"This is a really good group to coach," Wright said. "It's been a pleasure all year. But it can't let that prevent us from driving them and them driving themselves to get better."