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Josh Hart, defense deliver in No. 11 Villanova’s win at No. 18 Butler

Kelan Martin, Nate Fowler, Josh Hart

Villanova guard Josh Hart (3) looks to shoot over Butler center Nate Fowler (51) and forward Kelan Martin (30) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)


Entering Sunday’s game against No. 11 Villanova, No. 18 Butler was already 1-2 in Big East play and in need of a win to keep close to the top half of the conference standings. Chris Holtmann’s Bulldogs were competitive throughout, but they ultimately fell short for two reasons: Villanova’s work on the defensive end, and the continued emergence of Josh Hart in Jay Wright’s offensive attack.

Hart scored 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds, leading the Wildcats offensively in their 60-55 win at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Hart’s made strides throughout his time at Villanova, going from role player as a freshman to the Big East’s best sixth man (and Big East tournament MOP) as a sophomore. As a junior Hart has been Villanova’s most efficient offensive option, entering Sunday’s game averaging a team-best 15.5 points per game and shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from three.

On a team loaded with guards who can hurt teams off the bounce, the 6-foot-5 Hart can score on multiple levels. While their efficiency numbers on the season are slightly lower than what last season’s team produced, Hart’s continued growth is a key factor for Villanova as they look to win a third consecutive Big East title.

Sunday night he was the player entrusted with getting the Wildcats key baskets on multiple occasions, and more often than not Hart delivered as he scored 14 of his 22 in the second half.

Villanova’s win wasn’t solely about Hart, however. Playing against a Butler team that also ranks among the ten most efficient offensive teams in the country, Villanova was able to limit the Bulldogs to 35.8 percent shooting from the field. With their perimeter depth Villanova can make defensive switches and not find themselves in mismatches. Add in a senior big man in Daniel Ochefu who can be a deterrent in the post as well as move his feet well enough to keep opposing guards from turning the corner in ball screen actions, and the Wildcats have the pieces needed for a quality defense.

Villanova was able to keep Tyler Lewis in check, as he finished with two points and one assist. And while Roosevelt Jones did score 20 points he didn’t have a single assist, which is rare given his ability to create for others in Butler’s offense. Villanova was able to keep Butler’s best creators from doing just that, and as a result they were able to short-circuit a potent offensive attack.

Butler assists on nearly 53 percent of their made baskets on the season; against Villanova the Bulldogs managed a total of six assists on 19 made baskets.

No 4-0 in Big East play, Villanova sits atop the Big East standings as they did in each of the last two seasons. And if they continue to defend as they have, and Josh Hart continues his development into one of the Big East’s best players, the Wildcats can win another Big East title.