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No. 18/18 Butler Bulldogs Lose Heartbreaker to No. 6/6 Villanova

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The #18/18 Butler Bulldogs, looking for their sixth straight win in a Big East Conference “First Place” Showdown at Hinkle Fieldhouse, had their hearts broken on Valentine’s Day. Villanova Guard Darrun Hilliard hit a three-point field goal with 0:01.5 left in the game to lift the #6/6 Villanova Wildcats to a 68-65 victory over Butler on Saturday. The dramatic shot in front of a sellout crowd capped off a game that more than lived up to its lofty advance billing.

The game-winning shot spoiled Butler’s chance at grabbing a share of the BIG EAST lead, and snapped the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak. Butler fell to 18-7 on the year and 8-4 in the BIG EAST. Villanova improved to 23-2 overall and solidified its hold on first place in the conference with a 10-2 league record.

“It’s obviously a tough one for us. A tough one to swallow,” said Butler head coach Chris Holtmann after the game. “Give Villanova credit. They made more plays tonight. They were the better team tonight.”

Hilliard turned in a remarkable performance in the showcase game between the two nationally-ranked teams. His game-winning shot, coming on a late game scramble, was his eighth three-point field goal of the contest and gave him a game-high 31 points.

Darrun Hilliard was outstanding,” said Butler’s head coach. “He was difficult for us to guard, and he made just about every shot he needed to make.”

Butler stood toe-to-toe with the nation’s sixth-ranked team. The Bulldogs overcame a 27-22 halftime deficit and led by as many as five points in the second half. Butler took its final lead at 63-62 on a fourth three-point field goal by senior guard Alex Barlow with 2:43 left in the game, but Hilliard answered with three straight free throws a minute later.

The Bulldogs then tied the game at 65-65 on a driving lay-up by junior guard Roosevelt Jones with 18 seconds left on the clock. Villanova then set up for a final shot and with the clock ticking down, Hilliard slipped free on the right wing and launched the game-winner.

Butler’s had a final attempt to tie the game, but a three-point attempt by freshman guard Kelan Martin bounced off the rim.

“Once we settled down, I was really proud of our guys’ effort,” stated Holtmann. “I thought in the second half we played really well. We just had a couple of defensive lapses that hurt us, and when you do that against a really good team, it bites you.”

Barlow and junior guard Kellen Dunham led Butler’s second-half comeback. The two combined for 25 of Butler’s 43 second half points, and each finished with 19 points in the game. Barlow matched his career scoring-high and hit four three-point field goals for the fourth time in his career. Dunham had a share of Butler’s scoring lead for the third straight game.

Photo: Butler Athletics/Alex Barlow (John Fetcho)
Photo: Butler Athletics/Alex Barlow (John Fetcho)

Villanova scored the first five points of the game; Butler had the next five. The Wildcats then broke the tie on a three-point field goal by Hilliard and maintained the upper hand for the rest of the opening period. Villanova took its biggest lead of the half at 27-19 on a lay-up by Hilliard, before Barlow cut the margin to five points with a three-point field goal.

The Bulldogs scored the first six point of the second half to grab their first lead of the game at 28-27 and later stretched the margin to five points on three occasions.

Martin joined Barlow and Dunham in double-figures with 10 points in 13 minutes off the bench, including one make from three. Senior forward Kameron Woods led all players in the game with 12 rebounds, helping Butler to a 34-25 advantage on the boards.

The Bulldogs will have to bounce back in a hurry. They’ll be back in action in 48 hours at Creighton. The game on Monday, Feb. 16, at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., will start at 9:15 p.m. (ET).

Chris 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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