INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Butler coach Chris Holtmann started replaying Saturday’s game in his head almost as soon as Kelan Martin’s 3-pointer bounced off the rim.
He couldn’t change a thing.
After charging back from a sluggish start to take a five-point lead in the second half, the Bulldogs watched Darrun Hilliard make an open 3 from the left wing with 1.5 seconds left to give No. 6 Villanova a 68-65 victory over the 18th-ranked Bulldogs.
Butler had a chance to force overtime when Austin Etherington threw a long inbounds pass to Roosevelt Jones, who quickly zipped the ball to Martin on the left wing. But his shot was off the mark.
“They made more plays today and they were the better team tonight,” Holtmann said. “In the second half, I thought we played really well. We just had a couple of defensive lapses that hurt us and when you play a really good team, you can’t do that.”
Now the Bulldogs (18-7, 8-4 Big East) must deal with the repercussions.
The conference’s surprise team had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell two games behind the league-leading Wildcats.
Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow each finished with 19 points to lead Butler, which was unable to pull away after taking a 44-39 lead with 13:37 to go. The frustration was written all over the faces of Dunham, Holtmann and Barlow.
“It was executed perfectly, except the shot didn’t go in,” Holtmann said when asked about the final play. “We felt they were going to hug Kellen (Dunham) and Alex (Barlow), so we got the ball where we wanted it to go.”
The problem was that Hilliard got exactly what he wanted, too.
He made 3-pointers, got the ball to open teammates and rallied the Wildcats. And with the outcome in jeopardy, Hilliard took matters into his own hands.
“They were taking all of our cuts away and we really had to play off of Darrun’s decisions and JayVaughn (Pinkston’s) decisions,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Fortunately, we have a couple of seniors that can do that. But it’s not just all the shots Darrun made. … We played through him.”
Hilliard delivered the best game of his college career.
He finished with 31 points and eight 3s to set career highs. His nine field goals matched his previous career best, set in December, and his eight rebounds were one short of a career high. He also played solid defense and, when it mattered most, Hilliard made the shot his team needed most.
Now, Villanova (23-2, 10-2 Big East), winners of six straight and 10 of 11, can focus on taking care of the rest.
Only one other Villanova player reached double figures: Pinkston had 12 points.
Hilliard did enough damage by himself, though, especially after catching Butler in a defensive switch on Villanova’s last possession. That split-second of confusion was all Hilliard needed to free himself for the winning basket.
Hilliard’s back-to-back 3s midway through the second half gave Villanova a 50-48 lead. The Wildcats didn’t trail again until Barlow’s 3 with 2:43 left made it 63-62.
Hilliard didn’t fret. With 1:24 left, he launched himself into Barlow, drawing a foul. Hilliard made all three free throws to give Villanova the lead.
Jones tied the score on an acrobatic layup with 17.3 seconds left, but Hilliard hit his 3 and Martin did not.
Villanova: The Wildcats are in complete control of the conference title chase. The season sweep gives Villanova essentially a 2 1/2-game lead over Butler. Georgetown and Providence are the next closest to Villanova, but each has five conference losses.
Butler: The Bulldogs may have lost more than a game, too. Starting forward Andrew Chrabascz left with a right hand injury with 15:33 left in the second half, then returned and finished the game. Holtmann said Chrabascz was in pain after the game and would have X-rays. Holtmann was still awaiting word from the team doctor about the extent of the injury.
Butler began the day with a 12-1 record at home and a 4-2 mark against Top 25 teams. But against Villanova, the Bulldogs have had no luck. A year ago, they lost in overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse and are now 0-6 all-time against Villanova.
Villanova hosts Seton Hall on Monday.
Butler visits Creighton on Monday.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.