VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl each scored 18 points for No. 7 Villanova, and coach Jay Wright won his 600th career game in an 85-66 victory over Butler on Wednesday night.
Wright (600-268) was already Villanova's winningest coach and he became the 39th coach in Division I history to reach 600 wins. Wright is 478-183 since he was hired in 2001 and he has built the Wildcats into one of the elite programs in college basketball. Wright won national championships in 2016 and 2018 and again has the preseason favorite to win the Big East — a team expected to contend for another national title.
Wright earned the milestone in the latest home opener for Villanova since Dec. 22, 1992, against Vermont. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the schedule and Villanova had home games against Temple, Saint Joseph’s and DePaul canceled or postponed. So the Wildcats hit the road and went 4-1 in Connecticut’s “Bubbleville” and won at Texas and Georgetown.
The Pavilion was empty, and fans might have stayed home anyway in a normal year on a night when a major winter storm dumped several inches of snow on campus.
Butler landed safely on Monday night to prepare for just its second game of the season, and first in 21 days after the program paused due to COVID-19 protocols. The 21-day in-season break was believed to be the longest between games in Butler history.
Jair Bolden scored 18 points and helped the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 Big East) stay competitive with 3-pointers that kept them within two in the second half.
Like so many games in Wright’s 600-win tenure, the Wildcats found the way to break the game open, in this case a 3-pointer by Cole Swider, Jermaine Samuels slashing his way through the lane for a three-point play and Caleb Daniels hitting a 3 for a 64-53 lead.
Villanova methodically maintained the lead from there — nothing flashy, just smart basketball (six turnovers to Butler’s 15) from an experienced team.
The Wildcats forced a turnover and Gillespie buried a 3 for a 77-63 lead that drew applause from Wright in a sequence that encapsulated all they did right in beating the Bulldogs. Swider hit a 3 for a 19-point advantage, and win No. 600 was soon in the books.
At just 58 and with a job at Villanova for as long as he wants, Wright is on pace to rack up hundreds more victories and truly stamp himself as one of the college game's greats.
Butler: The Bulldogs were picked eighth in the preseason Big East poll and played in spurts like a team that could surprise and finish higher in the standings. They shot 52% in the first half and scored at the horn to trail 41-34 at the break. ... Aaron Thompson, one of 10 semifinalists for the 2019-20 Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, was helped off the court late in the game with an unspecified injury.
Villanova: The Wildcats hit 10 3s and showed they have the talent to again win the Big East.
Wright went 122-85 with two NCAA Tournament appearances in seven seasons at Hofstra. His first win at Villanova came against Grambling State on Nov 21, 2001.
Villanova’s game against 2019 national champion Virginia scheduled for Saturday at Madison Square Garden will not take place.
“We’ve worked closely with Virginia on this,” Wright said. “Both schools tried to make this game happen. Due to COVID-19 issues, we will not be able to play.”
The Wildcats are set to play Dec. 23 at Marquette.
Butler is home Saturday against Indiana.
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