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2018 Big East Tournament semifinals: Villanova’s hot start leads to wire-to-wire victory over Butler, 87-68

Once the Wildcats went on a 19-0 run to start the game, the Bulldogs just couldn’t recover.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Villanova vs Marquette Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the semifinal game that tipped off Friday night, which needed overtime to settle the contest, the Villanova Wildcats seemed like they wanted to end it early.

The Wildcats blitzed the Butler Bulldogs, getting nearly every single shot to fall at the beginning of the game. By the time Butler had answered with its first basket of the game, about five-and-a-half minutes were gone and Villanova had a dominating 19-0 lead.

”I didn’t even notice that the score was 19-0,” Villanova guard Phil Booth said. “I saw them call time out, I looked up and I noticed what it was. We were just playing, trying to get stops and kept going and just play defense.”

The Bulldogs would finally settle in, but the Wildcats overwhelming start was too much to bear. There would be no epic comeback in the nightcap of the Big East Tournament semifinals. The second-seeded Wildcats blitzed the Bulldogs en route to a 87-68 wire-to-wire victory.

”When Mikal hit that first shot--it’s not really what we were looking for right there, but he does have the freedom,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “That really set the tone. He hit that three and it gave everyone conference.”

The Wildcats’ hot hand from the previous night was still intact--except this time--they didn’t need to wait until the second half to get going. The Wildcats were relentless, starting 6-for-7 on the floor. They methodically picked apart the Bulldogs and even the contested shots were dropping.

Butler would finally get on the board when Aaron Thompson and Sean McDermott made back-to-back baskets, making it 19-5 with 14:06 to go. However, Villanova continued to pour it on, even after Butler had found its footing.

The Wildcats pushed the lead to as high as 21 in the opening half, and they topped things off with a Phil Booth pull-up three-pointer seconds before the buzzer. Villanova took a comfortable 44-25 lead at the break.

Unfortunately for the ‘Dogs, things didn’t get easier in the second half, as Villanova’s hot hand never cooled off. The Killer B’s of Booth, Jalen Brunson, and Mikal Bridges were locked in all night. The veteran trio set the tone and kept the pace up to close out the game. They combined for over half of the Wildcats scoring, tallying 49 points off a 17-for-31 overall performance.

’Nova pushed the lead back into the twenties and it stayed there, as it continued to shoot the lights out. For a large chunk of the second half, the ‘Cats were on a run in which they made 9-of-their 10 shot takes--including a spree of eight-straight shots.

Defensively, they were just as intense. Butler turned the ball over 12 times, which translated into 16 points. The Bulldogs also lost the battle on the boards, allowing the Wildcats to take a 37-25 advantage.

Apart from all that, Butler couldn’t find its stroke from deep. The Bulldogs torched their opponents from long range in their first-ever meeting this season back at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It seemed like Friday night was a bout of role reversal.

As a team, the Bulldogs were limited to shooting just 7-for-20 (35.0 percent) from beyond the arc.

Kelan Martin paced the Bulldogs with 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Kamar Baldwin added 12 points. Paul Jorgensen had 11 points, but was just 2-of-8 on the floor. Tyler Wideman finished with 10 points, including a perfect 4-for-4 performance--but was limited to just 12 minutes of action due to foul trouble.

”That was one of our best defensive performances,” Wright said. “We played well. They’re a really good offensive team, and they still shot 48 percent and we thought we played really well defensively but the first half, the start--defensively--I think that was the difference for us.”

All five of Villanova’s starters scored in double figures. Aside from Bridges, Booth, and Brunson, Omari Spellman had a double-double. The redshirt freshman had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Eric Paschall contributed 12 points and seven rebounds.

Now, the stage is set for Saturday’s Big East Tournament championship game. The Wildcats will take on sixth-seeded Providence at 6:30 p.m.

Villanova is 8-1 against the Providence Friars in the Big East Tournament. The Friars beat the Wildcats back in 1994, in the quarterfinals.

Even with the disparity, Wright is still expecting a tough matchup. This season, both teams split the regular season series.

”We’re more concerned with how good Cartwright is, how well Lindsey shoots the ball, Bullock--and how to defend them,” Wright said. “They do a great job of defending on us. We have to be able to score on them.”