College basketball: Butler newcomers lift team to big win

INDIANAPOLIS — So much for the notion that experience in big games helps an athlete settle down and perform to his capability.

Butler added yet another chapter to its lengthy — and impressive — basketball history Wednesday by upsetting No. 1-ranked Villanova 66-58 in front of 9,206 fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse. And the Bulldogs did so in large part due to the play of two guys in their first year with the program.

“Players win games,” third-year Butler coach Chris Holtmann said afterward. “Players make plays to win games and these guys made enough plays.”

Butler Bulldogs head coach Chris Holtmann (right) pushed all of the right buttons to topple Villanova.

Trevor Ruszkowski | USA TODAY Sports Images

Butler Bulldogs head coach Chris Holtmann (right) pushed all of the right buttons to topple Villanova.

Holtmann utilized nine players in the game, and each did something that helped the 18th-ranked Bulldogs (13-2, 2-1 Big East) knock off a top-ranked team for the second time in five years. However, transfer guard Kethan Savage and freshman guard Kamar Baldwin did a lot in the final stages of the game, as Butler sealed the victory with a 15-6 run over the final 3-plus minutes.

During that final span, Savage scored seven points over 2:49 and made the first of two Bulldog steals that helped break Villanova’s back.

“He’s a guy that is able to make shots at a high level,” Holtmann said of the George Washington transfer, who is in his first season of playing for Butler, “and he’s always been a paint-touch guy. He got to the foul line five times tonight and we need to do that more. Our team doesn’t get to the foul line quite as much.”

Savage picked up his fifth foul with 1:40 remaining in the game and Villanova had trimmed its deficit to 58-54, so somebody else had to step up and keep Butler’s positive mojo going. Enter Baldwin.

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The 19-year-old was only playing in his 15th college game, but he made play after play throughout the night. He closed the first half with a driving scoop of a lay-in to steal back the momentum from the Wildcats (14-1, 2-1), who had just scored 14 seconds earlier, but that paled in comparison to his final acts.

After Savage fouled out, Baldwin missed a jumper and Villanova, who had won 20 consecutive games over two seasons, grabbed the board and headed up court to cut into the margin. Baldwin picked up Wildcat guard Josh Hart in the backcourt and before Hart could react, the lightning quick Baldwin had sliced past him and stolen the ball.

Baldwin was moving so quickly that he struggled to control his dribble and Hart was zeroing in on him prepared to block any lay-in attempt, so Baldwin just leaped to the opposite side of the rim and put some reverse spin on the ball and Butler had 60-54 lead.

“The moment is not too big for (Baldwin),” Holtmann said. “It has not been too big for him in his short time here in college. His steal and finish was phenomenal. If I sat here and told you that I thought that he was going to be able to finish that after bobbling it, I’d be lying.”

There was no need for dishonesty, because the truth is that Savage and Baldwin bring a level of athleticism that Butler hasn’t had in its backcourt in several years and that shows at both ends of the court.

Butler University guard Kethan Savage (11) helped the Bulldogs stop Villanova's 20-game win streak.

Butler Athletics

Butler University guard Kethan Savage (11) helped the Bulldogs stop Villanova’s 20-game win streak.

Savage finished with 13 points in 21 minutes, while senior forward Andrew Chrabascz matched that amount, in addition to grabbing seven rebounds.

Baldwin totaled 10 points and grabbed five rebounds, while Kelan Martin chipped in a dozen points and six rebounds.

Butler outrebounded the bigger, stronger Villanova team 33-24, which was its largest rebounding margin of the year, as well as held the Wildcats to just 37 percent shooting, which was 13 percentage points lower than their season average.

“For us to stay with it long enough to make the necessary plays,” Holtmann said, “we talked about fighting the frustration, because you have to when you play Villanova, and we did a good job of staying with it and giving ourselves a chance there late.”

Butler will travel to Georgetown Saturday at noon.

This article is written by Tom Davis from The News-Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.