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Butler Bulldogs Fall to No. 2/3 Villanova in 2018 BIG EAST Tournament Semifinals

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The Butler Bulldogs, fresh off a win against Seton Hall, took on the #2/3 Villanova Wildcats in the 2018 BIG EAST Tournament Semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Friday, March 9. Villanova scored the first 19 points of the game and pulled away for an 87-68 win. Butler falls to 20-13 while Villanova improves to 29-4 on the season and will play Providence in the BIG EAST Tournament championship game.

“Start off by saying that’s a heck of a basketball team that we just played,” said Butler Head Coach LaVall Jordan. “A lot of credit goes to them for coming out with the level of intensity that they did. Obviously they made a ton of shots. But I’m extremely proud of our group for just responding. After the first big run it was even after that. If you spot a team like that 16, 19 points, it’s going to be really tough to dig out of that.”

The Wildcats opened the scoring on a three from redshirt junior G/F Mikal Bridges. The three was the start of a 19-0 Villanova run that buried Butler early as the Bulldogs missed their first five shots. A three from redshirt freshman F Omari Spellman capped off the run as Butler freshman G Aaron Thompson scored on a jumper to give the Bulldogs their first points of the game at 19-2 with 14:32 remaining in the first half. Redshirt freshman F Sean McDermott scored on a three to bring the lead to 19-5 with 14:06 remaining in the first half before Villanova redshirt junior G Phil Booth scored the next seven points of the game, including a make from three, to give the Wildcats a 21 point lead at 26-5 with 11:38 remaining before halftime. A three by redshirt junior G Paul Jorgensen started a 9-4 Butler run that trimmed the lead to 30-14 with 7:03 remaining in the first half. A three by Villanova redshirt junior F Eric Paschall was immediately answered with a second three from Sean McDermott and a layup from Butler senior F Kelan Martin to cut the lead to 14 at 33-19 with 4:27 remaining in the first half. A Kelan Martin jumper again cut the lead to 14 at 37-23 at the 2:50 first half mark, but four straight points from Omari Spellman pushed the lead to 18 at 41-23 with 1:47 remaining in the first half. Butler sophomore G Kamar Baldwin responded with a layup with 1:16 remaining in the first half, but both teams struggled to score before a three from Phil Booth with 0:03 remaining in the first half gave Villanova a 44-25 halftime lead.

The Bulldogs finished the first half at 45.5% (10-22) from the field, including 42.9% (3-7) from three. Villanova finished the first half shooting 53.6% (15-28) from the field, including 42.9% (6-14) from three. Phil Booth led all scorers at the half with 12 points.

Photo: Butler Athletics/Butler Senior Forward Kelan Martin

The Bulldogs scored the first four points of the second half on layups from senior F Tyler Wideman and Kamar Baldwin to trim the lead to 44-29 with 18:41 remaining. A jumper from sophomore G Henry Baddley again trimmed the lead to 15 points before a Villanova free throw and three from Bridges extended the lead back to 19 at 50-31 with 17:04 remaining. Kelan Martin would score the next points of the game on a three before a 7-2 Villanova run ending with a three from junior G Jalen Brunson gave the Wildcats a 57-36 lead with 14:48 remaining. The Bulldogs received a layup from Tyler Wideman before the Wildcats pushed out a 8-2 run with the help of two threes from Mikal Bridges to take a 65-40 lead with 11:58 remaining. The hot shooting from three by Villanova continued as a Jalen Brunson three pushed the lead to 68-42 before a second Brunson three extended the lead to 71-44 with 10:10 remaining. The Bulldogs continued to fight as an 8-3 run trimmed the lead down to 74-52 with 7:57 remaining. Following a pair of Villanova free throws, a three from Henry Baddley cut the lead to 76-55 with 6:08 remaining. A three from Omari Spellman was immediately answered with a three from Butler junior C Nate Fowler and a Villanova turnover on its next possession led to a three from Kelan Martin to trim the lead to 83-63 with 4:32 remaining. The two threes from Fowler and Martin were part on an 11-2 Butler run that ended with a Kelan Martin And-1 three point play on a layup to cut the lead to 17 at 68-85 with 2:06 remaining. But it was too little too late both teams emptied their bench immediately after. The final score of the game came with 1:47 remaining to give Villanova the final 87-68 score.

The Bulldogs finished the game shooting 48.1% (25-52) from the field, including 35% (7-20) from three. Villanova finished the game at 47.5% (29-61) from the field, including 41.2% (14-34) from three. Villanova finished with a higher free throw percentage at 88.2% (15-17) compared to 84.6% (11-13) for Butler.

Villanova outrebounded Butler, 37-25. Butler shot 48 percent from the field, suffering its first loss of the season when out-shooting its opponent (18-1).

Senior F Kelan Martin led Butler with 13 points and tied for a game-high four assists. Sophomore G Kamar Baldwin finished with 12, followed by redshirt junior G Paul Jorgensen with 11 off the bench and senior F Tyler Wideman with 10.

Mikal Bridges led five Wildcats in double figures with 18 points. Omari Spellman had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Butler is 20-13 and will await its postseason destination Sunday night. The Bulldogs are in search of their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, and the tenth in the last 12 seasons.

Christopher Fultz is a Senior Writer for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by Butler Athletics and has full media access. Follow @CafultzISR and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter.

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