Villanova Wildcats

In his final game at Wells Fargo Center, Phil Booth drops 28 to lead Villanova past Butler

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In his final game at Wells Fargo Center, Phil Booth drops 28 to lead Villanova past Butler


Phil Booth walked off the court for the final time in a home game with reminders everywhere how he helped turn the program into a national power. The scoreboard was lit with the point totals of another Villanova rout, a 20-point cushion built in large part by Booth's 3-point shooting. And in the rafters, two national championships that he helped the Wildcats win -- what fan can forget the 3 at the halftime horn in 2016 against North Carolina? -- and former teammates stopped by to salute the senior guard.

Booth has been the steady scorer in the most uneven of seasons for the Wildcats. If Booth wants to leave with a third Final Four on his resume, he'll need another Wildcat or two to step up and help him and Eric Paschall carry the scoring load.

"We're still learning how to play well together," Booth said.

The Wildcats are running out of time to figure it all out. But against Butler, Booth and Paschall were enough.

Booth scored 28 points and Paschall had 12 to lead Villanova to a 75-54 win over Butler in the home finale on Saturday.

The Wildcats (22-8, 13-4 Big East) could still win at least a share of the conference crown in a season where they have as many losses as the last two years combined. Villanova tumbled out of the AP Top 25 following a three-game losing streak, yet it is assured of earning no lower than a No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament in two weeks in Madison Square Garden. Coach Jay Wright's program has won the last two Big East tourneys and three of four -- oh, and the 2016 and 2018 national championships.

`We're just a work in progress," Wright said. "We shouldn't be at this point, but we are. Part of that's on us as a coaching staff, but I think we're going in a good direction. I like how we're playing right now."

The title banners (and one for 1985) were raised in the Wells Fargo Center, but not even the national champs could take center stage in Philly on Saturday.

Fans scrolled their phones and were still buzzing over the Phillies' record signing of free-agent Bryce Harper. Harper had just pulled on his pinstripe jersey and Phillies cap for the first time at a press conference in Clearwater, Florida when Villanova tipped off. The Wildcats weren't the 1A story in the city -- they weren't even headline news in their own arena. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors were in town and set to play the 76ers hours after the final horn. With the fast turnaround time, the game was played on the Sixers' court instead of the one adorned with Villanova logos.

It took some time for Villanova to feel at home. The Wildcats missed six of their first seven shots and struggling Butler led early by nine.

Booth took control and buried a 3-pointer and converted a three-point play to give the Wildcats a 27-23 lead and they took off the rest of the way. Booth pushed the lead to 15 with a 3 early in the second half, and Paschall's thunderous baseline dunk got a rise out of fans on hand for the appetizer before the NBA's game of the night.

Villanova's search for a consistent third scorer goes on: Jermaine Samuels followed his 10 of 19 (5 3s) and 29-point outing in a win over No. 10 Marquette with just seven points against Butler. Saddiq Bey scored 11 points in a modest effort for the Wildcats.

"The tinkering has to end," Wright said.

The Bulldogs (15-14, 6-10) needed a win to remain in the NCAA Tournament picture and will pretty much need to win it all in two weeks in New York to have a shot at March Madness. Paul Jorgensen led Butler with 11 points. Butler had closed within eight late in the second half but couldn't sustain the run and Booth's fourth 3-pointer made it a 15-point game.

"We've had moments where we've looked like the team we want to look like, and for 20 minutes, I thought we were that," Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. "In the second half, that was not the case. It's just a little bit of soul searching to decide who we're going to be from this point out."

Big picture

Butler: Shot just 5 of 26 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Villanova: F Cole Swider was in uniform for the first time since he broke his right hand on Jan. 17 and could add some depth if he can return for the tournament.

Up next

Butler host Xavier on Wednesday.

Villanova finishes the regular season Saturday at Seton Hall.

Villanova's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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Villanova's buzzer-beating win over Georgetown in 1999 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

January 30th 1999.  I was a 15-year-old who wondered how the Phillies would build around Scott Rolen, marveled at Lindros and LeClair’s 40 goal seasons, happy to have Iverson back after a lockout and was suspicious about some guy named ‘Reid’ the Eagles just hired.  

In the midst of all this, my best bud, Ryan Bennett and his family, scored tickets to Villanova vs. Georgetown at the now Wells Fargo Center for a Saturday noon tipoff and they were kind enough to invite me along.  

I remember Ryan and I had a CYO High School basketball game that night in Lansdale at 7 p.m.

“No problem, plenty of time”, we thought. 

The Bennett’s picked me up at that morning and off we went to what would be the best game I ever saw... 

Our seats were in the upper level, 1st row, in a corner at the end Nova would be shooting at in the 2nd half.

Steve Lapas’ Wildcats opened with a 13-0 run on Craig Esherick’s Hoyas. Esherick had just taken over for the legend, John Thompson. 

Just as an aside. My friend and I kept thinking Esherick looked A LOT like Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds (aka Turd Ferguson) on SNL’s celebrity Jeopardy. You be the judge…

Anyway, back to basketball.  

In the 2nd half, the Wildcats built a 17-point lead only to see it wiped away with a 17-0 Hoyas run. Georgetown’s Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje’s lay-up tied the game at 67 with 2:30 left. RBB was a Cameroonian baller before it was trendy. 

I remember a slew of guys were in foul trouble. Including RBB and Malik Allen.

In the final :45 seconds, tied at 69-69, both Nova and G-town sent guys to the line to shoot two. Neither team hit a free throw. Missed all four.  

Nova had one final chance on an inbounds play with 11 seconds left in regulation. John Celestand got the ball, tried working for a shot, gave it up to Allen who shot and missed from the top of the key as time expired.  

1st OT

The Hoyas struck first with a three, then three players fouled out; the Hoyas’ RBB and Jaleel Watkins and Nova’s T.J. Caouette. Six players would end up fouling out of this game in total. 

With :11 seconds left and Nova down two, Brooks Sales hit two free throws to tie it at 78. Kevin Braswell, a freshman guard for the Hoyas brought the ball up and was picked up by Celestand. Braswell rose for the game winner with :03 seconds on the clock and Celestand stuffed him! The ball never even left the freshman’s hand! Celestand was all over it. Smothered! 

Time ran out. 

2nd OT 

The game seesawed a bit. Howard Brown banked in a three for Nova. Braswell responded with a driving lay-up. 82-81, Georgetown.

With a little over 2:00 left, Allen, fouled out.  Nova would keep pace thanks to a huge three from Brian Lynch with just over a minute left that gave the Cats an 87-86 lead.   

Then things got bleak for Nova. 

Georgetown took a 90-87 lead on another Braswell layup and a free throws from Daymond Jackson and Anthony Perry. Perry made the first of two, missed the second. Nova secured the rebound and pushed up the floor with :14 seconds left. 

Then a Nova Miracle. 

The Wildcats, down 3, crossed half court and set up their offense with nine seconds left. They worked it to Brown in the corner. The same corner my friend and I were sitting over in the upper level. Brown let it fly and hit the three to tie the game at 90. With 2.4 seconds left the Hoyas inbounded under the basket and threw a pass to half court. The ball was tipped by Nova and wound up in the hands of the Cats’ Jermaine Medley. Medley grabbed the ball, spun and shot all in one motion. 


Buzzer Beater. 

Nova Wins! 

The Wildcats scored six points in under four seconds to win in double overtime, 93-90. 

Me, Ryan and his parents jumped with excitement, high-fived and then ran to the parking lot. We had our own game to play. We got from the upper level to the car in record time and we were one of the first cars out of the lot. We just made our CYO game in Lansdale, which for the record, we won.

One of the things that made being at this game so awesome was that the broadcast had a horrible camera angle for Medley’s game winner. ESPN didn’t capture the shot live. When Ryan and I got to our game that night, a teammate couldn’t believe we “were at that game.” He said it wasn’t until replays aired that people at home actually saw what happened.  

Fast forward 17 years. I’m boarding a flight, Charlotte to Philadelphia. Christmas Eve. None-other-than Steve Lappas sits next to me. We get to talking. Incredibly nice guy. I bring up this Nova game. Two things he told me. He knew Celestand had Braswell on that block in the first OT and he still can’t believe how Medley made that circus shot at the end. Neither can I. 

Nova-Georgetown double OT, truly the best game I ever saw.  

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

The Kris Jenkins shot vs. North Carolina was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

Reuben Frank and Sean Kane both chose the 2016 national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina as the greatest game they ever saw in person. Reuben was there as a reporter, Sean was there as a fan. Here are each of their perspectives. 

Reuben Frank: We're taught from Day 1 as journalists to never let your emotions show, to remain unbiased, and for the first 33 years, six months and 12 days of my career I had a perfect record. Then Kris Jenkins hit a jumper. So much for objectivity. I was court-side at NRG Stadium in Houston - second row, center court - when Jenkins his that 26-footer at the buzzer to give Villanova the 2016 NCAA Championship over North Carolina, and I'm pretty sure that Mike Kern of the Daily News, sitting to my left, and I both stood up and looked at each other and screamed "OHHHHHHHHHHH" at the top of our lungs when the ball splashed through the basket as the buzzer sounded.

Then, as the confetti rained down from the roof and bedlam ensued, Jenkins for some reason ran right in front of me to celebrate and I began taking as many pictures as I could. The Super Bowl was dramatic and unforgettable. But for that Villanova-UNC game I was on top of the action, just a few feet from the court, just a few feet where I lost my cool after 33 years, just a few feet from the greatest shot in college basketball history. 

Sean Kane: This game narrowly edges out Super Bowl 52 and the classic Duke/Kentucky regional final at the Spectrum in 1992. I'm fortunate enough to have been in attendance for arguably the two greatest shots in college basketball history - Christian Laettner's turnaround jumper to beat Kentucky and Kris Jenkins' three-pointer to beat North Carolina. The 2016 national title game is my choice for a number of reasons. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I've been a Villanova fan for as long as I can remember. My grandfather went to Villanova. My uncle and cousin went there too. I've been going to Villanova basketball and football games since I was a little boy. So to be there to see my favorite team win a national championship at the buzzer? Nothing tops that. 

The 2016 Final Four was the first time I attended a Villanova NCAA Tournament game as a fan. I covered Villanova in the tournament every year from 2006-2009, trying my best to stay objective. But going as a fan was a new experience. My Dad and I decided to go as soon as Villanova beat Kansas in the Elite Eight. My wife immediately got us plane tickets and a hotel room in Houston and we left the morning of the national semifinals. We were there for Villanova's historic 44-point win over Oklahoma on Saturday night, the biggest blowout in Final Four history. The PGA Tour was in Houston that weekend, so we spent Sunday watching golf. It all worked out perfectly. Then the main event - Villanova and North Carolina in the championship game on Monday night. North Carolina had ended Villanova's season in the NCAA Tournament three times during the Jay Wright Era - 2005, 2009 and 2013. But this time was different thanks to Phil Booth's 20 points off the bench and Ryan Arcidiacono finding Jenkins for the win as the buzzer sounded. It was one of the greatest games in college basketball history. It ended with the best shot in NCAA Tournament history. And I was there to see it with my Dad, who raised me as a Villanova fan. That's as good as it gets for me.