No. 8 Villanova tops Butler on emotional Senior Night

No. 8 Villanova tops Butler on emotional Senior Night
February 26, 2014, 11:30 pm
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Nick McMahon, Tony Chennault and James Bell salute the Villanova fans after topping Butler on Wednesday night. (USA Today Images)

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova coach Jay Wright doesn’t try to hide the fact that he gets emotional every year on Senior Night.

Maybe that’s why his eyes were a little red Wednesday night.

“I’m bad,” Wright said. “I’m bad at that.”

The Villanova community said good-bye to seniors James Bell, Anthony Chennault and walk-on Nick McMahon Wednesday when the Wildcats finished the campus portion of their schedule with a 67-48 win over Butler at the Pavilion (see Instant Replay).

Villanova has three more Big East games – two at the Wells Fargo Center and one at Xavier – before the Big East tournament in New York and then the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats have some pretty lofty goals for the next month, but on Wednesday night it was all about grinding past Butler and saluting Bell, a Naismath Award finalist.

After Villanova improved to 25-3, Wright recounted his evening. The common theme was crying.

“I was crying at Father Rob (team chaplain Rob Hagan) pre-game little homily before our pre-game meal,” Wright said. “Father did it about the seniors, I tried to talk to him, I got emotional.

“We have a big thing with the senior class, I got emotional. Got emotional just now when you asked me (about Senior Day).

“When those guys stand up on the press table [after the game] and you hear the crowd just get to a really high level for them, I love that. I love when you take them out of the game, they give them a standing ovation. That’s all emotional stuff for me. I love it.”

Bell had 11 points and seven rebounds against Butler, but what he’ll remember most about this night is playing in front of the Wildcat fans on campus for the final time.

“It was tough,” he said. “I don’t see my mom that much. My dad works a lot and doesn’t really get a chance to get down here that much. That was probably the toughest part, seeing my mom crying, but other than that, it was time to play. We’ve got a goal as a team, and it was time to go.”

This is a rare top-10 team with just one senior starter, and Bell takes the responsibility seriously.

“I like it, but it’s definitely a lot tougher [than earlier years],” he said. “Coach is on me more. I have to do everything the right way, because if I don’t the rest of the team isn’t.

“And I have to keep the best attitude and be positive, because if I don’t, it’s going to reflect in the way the team plays.”

Seven Wildcats scored between six and 11 points Wednesday night, with Darrun Hilliard contributing 11, Ryan Arcidiacono nine and JayVaughn Pinkston and freshman Josh Hart eight each.

Villanova, which led by as many as 29 midway through the second half, made just seven of 29 threes but shot 55 percent inside the arc.

Hart, who had eight rebounds to go with eight points and two steals in just 18 minutes, said all the young guys on the team watch how Bell acts, and they try to emulate the veteran guard.

“Definitely learned a lot, him being here for four years, having his ups and downs, just learned a lot about how to handle yourself on the court but definitely off the court,” Hart said.

“No matter what, just keep your head up. Coach is on him constantly, he always has a good attitude, he always responds. As a freshman, when you’re a senior you want to be just like him.”

Villanova tied a school record with its 25th regular-season win, improving to 25-3 with at least five games left.

Butler, which opened the season 10-2, is 2-14 since and fell to 12-16 overall.

“I know that wasn’t pretty, but we liked it,” Wright said. “Our coaching staff liked it. Butler is a tough, scrappy team that’s not going to let you play pretty, and you have to find a way to grind against them, and I thought we did.

“We didn’t make shots and shot poorly from the free-throw line again but I thought our defense was really strong, and I like how hard we played. I’ll take that.”