Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
No. 2 Villanova crushes Butler and won’t have to play top-seeded Xavier in Big East Tournament final
By DAN GELSTONNEW YORK (AP) — Phil Booth insisted he was so focused on defense and finding open teammates that he never glanced at the scoreboard.
“I didn’t even notice the score was 19-0,” he said.
Villanova was rolling, and if a game can be over in the opening 5 minutes, this was the one.
The second-ranked Villanova scored the first 19 points and cruised toward its fourth straight trip in the Big East Tournament championship game in an 87-68 win over Butler on Friday night.
About 30 minutes after top-seeded Xavier was upset by Providence in overtime, the Wildcats (29-4) hit the court and showed how a favorite should play in a tournament semifinal.
Mikal Bridges hit a 3-pointer five seconds into the game and the Wildcats used near-perfect execution on a 16-0 run before Butler coach LaVall Jordan finally called a timeout at the 15:37 mark. He could have waved a white flag to signal for the TO.
Omari Spellman buried a 3 to make it 19-0 and the Wildcats proved why the Big East tournament title always goes through the Main Line and straight to Madison Square Garden. Butler finally scored and heard some mock cheers for the jumper.
“Spot a team like that 16, 19 points, it’s going to be really, really tough to dig out,” Jordan said.
The Bulldogs failed to find an offensive excavator.
Hey, at least the Bulldogs (20-13) were only down 17 after their first bucket.
Butler called a 30-second timeout with 11:35 left in the second half and trailed by 25 points. Yes, this was a tournament semifinal game.
The Wildcats hit 10 of their first 12 shots that made for an anticlimactic final 35 minutes at the Garden. Providence had rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and stunned top-seeded and No. 3 Xavier 75-72 in the first conference semifinal that had MSG rocking.
This seemed like a tune-up for a coronation.
Bridges had 18, Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Under coach Jay Wright, Villanova won the tournament in 2015 and 2017 and lost to Seton Hall in 2016. The four straight Big East title games are one shy of Syracuse’s record five straight from 1986-1990.
“I think we feel like we’re a new team rather than a team that’s stale at the end of the year,” Wright said.
The Wildcats did split two games against Providence but the Friars are coming off overtime games on consecutive nights and will be a heavy underdog.
Villanova vs. Xavier — the No. 2 and 3 teams in the AP Top 25 — had been an anticipated final. The Wildcats lost the outright regular-season title even though it beat the Musketeers twice.
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs stunned third-seeded Seton Hall 75-74 for its first career Big East Tournament victory and a win over the Wildcats on Dec. 30 made it seem like this should have been competitive.
Instead, Kelan Martin, who averaged 21.1 points, scored just four for the Bulldogs in the first half. He finished with 12.
“They had a great game plan for me. Sometimes, you just can’t beat it,” Martin said.
The Wildcats improved to 14-0 when holding opponents under 70 points.
“That was one of our best defensive performances,” Wright said.
The Wildcats hit six 3s, including Booth’s at the buzzer, to send them into the break ahead 44-25. Told Villanova could put probably four 3-point shooters on the court, Jordan cracked, “seemed like six.”
BIG PICTUREButler: The Bulldogs are still in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid and should be in the mix for No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Butler has lost three of four games.
“We’ll be fine,” Martin said. “We’ve got something to play for.”
Villanova: The Wildcats have won six of seven games and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have won 10 of 11 Big East Tournament games.
UP NEXTButler: Butler waits to find out its NCAA Tournament fate
Villanova: The Wildcats beat the Friars 89-69 on Jan. 23 and lost at Providence 76-71 on Feb. 14.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.