Young teams might have wilted on the road against a ranked opponent.
Not veteran-laden Villanova.
Despite Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater playing with nagging injuries, the No. 14 Wildcats still found a way to overcome adversity and defeat No. 17 Xavier 64-60 on Wednesday.
Villanova (12-4, 5-1 Big East) will now look for its sixth consecutive victory when it hosts Butler on Sunday in Philadelphia. This will be Villanova’s first game this season at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers.
Collin Gillespie, a National Player of the Year candidate, led the way with 21 points, Justin Moore added 19 points and nine rebounds and Eric Dixon had 15 points and 10 boards.
“He was just a true warrior tonight,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Gillespie. “He played 35 minutes, defended (Nate) Johnson, led us especially in those times when we had guys out of the game with fouls. Collin stayed in there, carried us and did an amazing job. It’s great to have a leader like him.”
Dixon has arguably been the Wildcats’ most improved player in all areas. His defense was especially key down the stretch as they held off Xavier and continued their winning streak.
“No matter what happens, we had to stick together,” Dixon said. “That’s the attitude we talk about. They’re a good team. They’re going to make runs.”
Butler will be searching for its second win in a row when it visits Villanova.
The Bulldogs (9-6, 2-2) most recently won 72-58 on the road against Georgetown on Thursday.
Jair Bolden led Butler with 23 points, Bryce Nze added 14 points and eight rebounds and Bryce Golden had 11 points.
It was far from a perfect game, but a much-improved effort from the Bulldogs.
“It was a grind-out, Big East-type of battle,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said. “Just gritty. Not pretty for us. We had some moments there where I thought there were some sort of smooth play, and then it got a little ugly and messy in the second half. We just had to continue to stay down and grind and find a way to win.”
The Bulldogs’ success this season can directly be connected to their defense. When their defense stiffens, they tend to win. When there are lapses, especially on the perimeter, losses usually follow.
Butler’s defense will definitely be tested against Villanova, one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
“We just have to get better and keep growing,” Jordan said.
“There is nothing we can’t clean up,” Golden added.
Butler received a boost with the return of Bo Hodges against Georgetown. Hodges, who hadn’t played all season because of a knee injury, had two points and seven rebounds in 10 minutes.