PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- On a day where the game's first 10 minutes looked eerily familiar, Villanova found a way to slow Butler's potent attack the rest of the way, and went on to post an 86-75 win over the Bulldogs before a sellout crowd of 20,603 Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
After falling behind 21-8, Villanova outscored the Bulldogs 78-54 over the final 34:06 to snap a three game losing skid to Butler. They did so while relying on a zone defense for large chunks of the second half as they played without starters Phil Booth (broken bone in right hand) and Eric Paschall (concussion).
Redshirt sophomore Donte DiVicenzo led the Wildcats with a career high 30 points while junior Jalen Brunson added 27 points. Butler senior Kelan Martin netted 30 points for the Bulldogs (17-9 overall, 7-6 BIG EAST).
"I'm really proud of our guys," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "We have great respect for Butler and not just because they beat us all the time. It's the way they play. We always feel like, if we play well against them, we're doing a lot of good things, being disciplined." The Wildcats also received critical contributions from redshirt freshman Omari Spellman (10 points, 11 rebounds in a season high 39 minutes); freshman guard Collin Gillespie (five points, four rebounds in his first collegiate start); and freshman forward Jermaine Samuels (two points, five rebounds, 19 minutes).
Butler, which connected on 60 percent of its field goal attempts in the first meeting between these two teams in December as it dealt VU a 101-93 loss, picked up right where it had left off at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It sank its first four attempts from the field, including a pair of 3-balls, and jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the contest's first three minutes.
The heaviest lifting in that stretch was done by Martin, who converted all four of his field goal attempts for 11 early points as the Bulldogs constructed an early 21-8 lead through seven minutes of action. Butler was 8-of-10 from the field in that span.
"Martin got it going," said Wright. "When he's pulling up in transition like that, there's really nothing you can do."
Martin's heroics helped the Bulldogs retain the lead. Villanova closed to within 27-23 before Butler's senior drained 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to stretch the advantage to 36-26. But the Wildcats closed the period on a 9-2 run, capped by a Collin Gillespie 3-pointer with three seconds to play in the half to narrow the halftime deficit to 38-35.
Martin's 17 points paced Butler in the period. The Wildcats were led by 13 points from Brunson and 10 more from Donte DiVincenzo.
In the second half the Wildcats turned to some unconventional looks. They leaned heavily on a zone defense and it worked -- Butler converted just 12-of-35 field goal attempts after intermission (.343) and was just 5-of-16 from beyond the arc (.313).
"We're a little bit in survival mode right here," Wright stated. "It's not fair to expect Jermaine, Collin and Dhamir to execute like the older guys. Jermaine and Collin missed a lot of time with their injuries. We kept things simple because they just haven't had the time on the court.
"It wasn't pretty today but we survived it. The simple things we did do, I thought the young guys executed well."
Meanwhile, DiVincenzo and Brunson were able to create points as Butler pressed out to take away the 3-pointer. VU tied a season low in 3-point field goals made (six) but compensated by going 24-of-41 inside the arc and 20-of-23 at the free throw line.
It resulted in the Wildcats 23rd victory and insured a double digit BIG EAST win total for the sixth straight season (10-2).
This wraps up a stretch of four consecutive home games for the Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center. Up next is a visit to Providence on Wednesday night (7 p.m./ FS1 and 610 Radio Sports.)
The 2017-18 Villanova Men's Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.