PHILADELPHIA — It was Senior Night at Villanova on Wednesday night, and the eighth-ranked Wildcats spent portions of the evening appearing as if they were awaiting some kind of celebration instead of playing a crisp game against Butler.
But amid some occasional bricks, the Wildcats enjoyed pockets of sharp shooting in mounting huge runs in each half, and rolled to a 67-48 victory over the Bulldogs in a Big East game before an appreciative sellout crowd at the Pavilion.
Villanova (25-3, 13-2 Big East) honored its seniors - James Bell, Tony Chennault, and former walk-on Nick McMahon - prior to the game, and Jay Wright put all three in the starting lineup. Bell, a top candidate for Big Five player of the year, left to a standing ovation with 4 minutes, 49 seconds to play after scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Bell was tied for high point honors with Darrun Hilliard. Freshman Josh Hart made a major contribution off the bench with eight points and eight boards. The Wildcats shot 39.7 percent for the game but 55 percent from inside the arc.
The Wildcats overcame a 4-for-19 start to the first half and a 4-for-15 start to the second half with the help of their defense and put together spurts to open up some distance on the Bulldogs (12-16, 2-14), who continue to struggle in their first year in the conference.
Villanova led by 14-11 with less than seven minutes remaining in the first half but finally found its shooting eye in a 20-6 run for nearly the remainder of the period. At one point, the Wildcats hit five consecutive shots, including three-point baskets from Hilliard, Bell, and Ryan Arcidiacono.
JayVaughn Pinkston scored Villanova's last six points of the half - bulling inside for one basket, hitting a turnaround shot, and sinking two free throws - to make it 34-17. The Bulldogs' Kellen Dunham hit a three at the buzzer to make it a 14-point margin at the half.
Butler hung tough in the opening seven minutes of the second half, trailing by 39-28, before the Wildcats ran off a 21-4 spurt, getting six points each from freshman Kris Jenkins and center Daniel Ochefu. Ochefu's bank shot with 6:51 remaining gave 'Nova its largest lead, 60-31.
The Wildcats were 9 of 13 from the floor during their run.
The Bulldogs shot 30.6 percent for the game. Dunham, who shot 3 of 13 from the field, was their high scorer, with 12 points.