Behind 'tactical' fans, Butler snaps Villanova's 20-game win streak

Behind 'tactical' fans, Butler snaps Villanova's 20-game win streak

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Wildcats have been carrying it around with them since Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer cemented his place in Villanova and college basketball history for all of eternity.

Through the offseason, and in each of the 15 games thus far, the 'Cats have lugged it around with them.

To Villanova, its fans, alumni and students, it’s the No. 1, proudly placed right next to the school’s name in the college basketball rankings, exactly where Jenkins and the 2015-16 ‘Cats left it nine months ago, on that historic night in Houston.

But to everyone else, it’s a giant target, peppered with each of Villanova’s opponents' best shot, its bullseye barely noticeable from all the abuse.

On Wednesday night, Butler fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse might as well have been salivating when the top-ranked ‘Cats took the floor.

Fans of the No. 18 Bulldogs started in early and often, and nobody was spared. For the entire 40 minutes of Wednesday night’s Big East contest, Butler fans poured it on Villanova’s players, the referees, and most of all, Jay Wright. And it didn’t go unnoticed.

As Wright addressed the media after the 66-58 loss (see Instant Replay), a slight grin grew on his face when comparing the Butler crowd to that of Villanova’s most recent opponent prior to Wednesday night, Creighton.

“[Creighton’s and Butler’s arenas] are tough, but there’s a great passion for basketball [at Butler],” Wright said. “Creighton is a little more euphoric. This place, this is a little more tactical in their cheering.”

“Tactical” is putting it lightly. After a disagreement with a call by one of the referees midway through the first half, Wright spun into a manic state of anger, having to be held back by players and coaches, earning a technical foul.

From that moment on, the Butler student section just 12 feet from the end of the Villanova bench chanted “Jay Wright sucks” at every opportunity throughout the rest of the game.

The student section’s effort to get into Wright’s head was hardly the highlight of Butler’s sellout crowd. The 'Cats entered on a 20-game winning streak, the longest in school history, accompanying Villanova’s No. 1 ranking. The energy inside Hinkle Fieldhouse made every Butler basket feel like it had the magnitude of Jenkins’ three-pointer in Houston. Whether Butler was chipping away at a six- or eight-point lead, tying the game or taking the lead, the reaction to every make was indicative of what was truly at stake — taking down No. 1.

“It was an unbelievable environment. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard Hinkle in my short time here,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “Our guys fed off that. We always do. Our crowd and the energy it brought, it was major. I think we only had eight assists — [the crowd] deserves at least one of them.”

The crowd took the noise to an even higher level in the final 1:50 when sure-handed Villanova committed two of its six turnovers on the night. Kris Jenkins attempted a cross-court pass that was intercepted and Josh Hart grabbed a rebound before having it swiped by Kamar Baldwin, who followed with an up-and-under layup for a six-point Butler lead with 57 seconds remaining.

“You have schools with great basketball tradition that expect to win. When they play at home, they really expect to win,” Wright said. “When you look at the results, they played really good team defense. I was very impressed. Wasn’t one of our best night’s defensively. They run some good stuff. They all share the ball, you can look at the balance. That broke down our defense a little bit."

As the clock hit zero, the crowd was so loud that it masked the sound of the buzzer. Students from each of Butler’s cheering sections stormed the court, meeting at halfcourt to jump up and down with the Bulldogs, emphatically celebrating the victory.

Afterward, Hart was asked whether being the defending national champions, the No. 1 team in the country and riding a 20-game winning streak felt like a giant target on the back of every Wildcat thus far throughout the season.

“No. Not really … we don’t really feel … um, no,” Hart said, trying to find a way to explain it best.

“I don’t think there’s any added motivation that we’re No. 1 and defending champions,” Hart added. “We knew before this year that we were going to get every team’s best shot.”

On Wednesday night, the Wildcats got the Bulldogs’ best shot on the court and from all angles of the crowd. But make no mistake of it, while Butler left its mark on the bullseye of that giant target on Villanova’s backs, it isn’t going anywhere. And the Wildcats should want it that way.

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

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Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.