VILLANOVA– Whenever there is a ranked contest in the Big East played on the campus of Villanova University or at the team’s second home the Wells Fargo Center, more seldom than not you see the Wildcats taking the loss.
Tuesday’s top-15 matchup between #9 Villanova and #13 Butler was no different as the Wildcats defeated the Bulldogs 76-61 at the Finneran Pavilion.
“That was a good game for us,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “There are certain teams you play where you can kind of test where you are, Butler’s discipline and their toughness always gives us trouble, a really good defensive effort on our part, we got to get better offensively, but our defensive rebounding was really good tonight and they’re a very good team.”
The game started out with a score of 4-2 at the first media timeout as both teams were a combined 3-14 from the field and 0-6 from deep.
While they got off to a slow start, the Wildcats rattled off an 8-0 at the second media timeout of the first half which ultimately got their offense into a rhythm.
“You’re going to get into a game, especially on the road and it’s going to happen and you’re not going to recover,” Wright said. “It’s definitely something we have to address, I feel like we’re ready, I feel like we’re fired up, I got to look at that.”
Coming into the game, one of the big questions was how was Villanova going to stop Butler’s leading scorer Kamar Baldwin from wrecking havoc on the ‘Cats?
The answer? Just put Saddiq Bey on him.
While Baldwin finished with 21 points on the game, he went 9-21 from the field and didn’t do any damage until midway in the second half when he scored 10 consecutive points to trim the Villanova lead to four.
“We just played team defense,” Bey said. “He’s a really dynamic player, in walkthrough and during practice, it was just great team effort and everybody locked into the scouting report.”
“Saddiq’s really become our best defensive player,” Wright said. “We just try to pick the guy that we think is hurting us the most or is going to hurt us the most, we wanted to make sure we kept Saddiq on him and Saddiq can do that sometimes with bigger guys too but he did a really good job too.”
On the offensive end of things, Villanova was led in scoring by wing Jermaine Samuels who, after knocking down a big shot to lift Villanova to victory over UConn last saturday, went out and scored a team-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds.
Can that big shot against UConn could be a tone setter going forward?
“At the end of the day, it’s all about staying confident and going out there and trying to make plays to put our team in the best situation.” Samuels said.
Bey, Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore all chipped in with 14 points.
In the first half when the Wildcats were struggling from the field, they relied heavily on freshman big Jeremiah Robinson-Earl who scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half while also finishing with 11 rebounds in total.
While Robinson-Earl is fourth on the team in scoring average with 10.8 points per game, he leads the Wildcats with 9.8 rebounds per game.
“The NBA guys will say that’s (rebounding) what transfers to the NBA from college, and I always remember hearing them say that so when I look at a guy in high school, if it transfers to the NBA, it must transfer from High School,” Wright said. “I remember watching him in High School, it was amazing, all the guys on his team would score points, you’d see him get 15 rebounds, he’s just one of those old school guys who has a natural knack of loving to go after the ball, he’s got great hands, great positioning, and great physicality as a freshman.”
The win improves the Wildcats record to 15-3 and 5-1 in Big East play.
Up next for Villanova is a date with Providence on Saturday at 1 PM on CBS at an always difficult Dunkin’ Donuts Center. In their last six matchups on the road at Providence, five of the six have been within 10 points with Villanova’s record being 4-2.