Out of all the arenas in the Big East conference, the one that seems to receive the least attention is Hinkle Fieldhouse. This makes sense when comparing the venue to Gampel Pavilion, the Cintas Center and the CHI Health Center, all of which are equally hard places for the road team to steal a win.
Hinkle Fieldhouse opened in 1928 and has been the home of Butler Bulldogs men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s volleyball while they represent numerous conferences. The building has experienced multiple renovations, reducing its capacity from 15,000 to 9,100 in the last 35 years, but that does not deter fans from giving the road team a hard time. Hinkle Fieldhouse may look like an indoor track facility on the outside, but for decades, national powerhouses and conference foes have been affected by the powerful magic that lies inside.
Player of the Week:
Jayden Taylor – Butler
Freshman of the Week:
Cam Whitmore – Villanova
St. John’s vs. Butler (Feb. 7): A sequence of disastrous decline
Both teams have been significantly weaker since the beginning of conference play in December, with injuries playing a minor role in their struggles. Even though the Bulldogs have been a get-right game for several Big East opponents, the St. John’s Red Storm are in a worse position due to their hotter start. Even with the season becoming a lost cause, the Red Storm hoped their get-right game would help them regain steam.
The Johnnies surged ahead in the first half behind an 8-0 run and a defense limiting Butler to three points in the final four minutes of the frame. As the game went on, the Red Storm did not worry too much about their dwindling second-half lead, but the Bulldogs continued to bring cause for concern. A Manny Bates three-point play and two Jayden Taylor free throws tied the contest with two minutes left before Simas Lukosius’ go-ahead floater and several missed shots helped Butler stun St. John’s senseless 68-66.
Taylor led all players with 19 points, while Bates had 15 and Lukosius dropped 11 with three triples for the Bulldogs. Joel Soriano secured a double-double for the Red Storm with 11 points and 12 boards, while Posh Alexander had 17 on 8-11 shooting and Rafael Pinzon had 14 off the bench. St. John’s blew a game it should have won, and it proved that Mike Anderson is not the long-term answer at head coach.
No. 13 Xavier vs. Butler (Feb. 10): Protego; a spell for maximum protection
The Xavier Musketeers succeeded in winning at home without Zach Freemantle, but their next test involved winning on the road. Butler would be seen as a practice question in comparison to who Xavier had left to play away from home, but even the practice questions stump the best test-takers sometimes.
The Bulldogs charged out of the gate, going on an 11-0 run in the first eight minutes and holding the Musketeers to a season-low 21 first-half points. Xavier countered to begin the second with their charge, as it took Butler almost three minutes to score and over five minutes to pick up five points. Both teams traded buckets throughout the second half, but two free throws from Souley Boum tied the contest with nine seconds left. Eric Hunter Jr. rushed down the court for one last shot in regulation, but Jack Nunge’s block turned into a goaltending. After the call stood following review, Boum’s attempted game-winner fell short and Butler pulled off the 69-67 upset.
Both Taylor (team-leading six rebounds) and Bates (five blocks) came up huge for the Bulldogs with 39 combined points. Colby Jones scored 17 while the three other Musketeer starters in double figures each buried two threes. This road loss stings for Xavier, not because of the game’s ending, but because their next opponent is the Marquette Golden Eagles in Milwaukee. With Freemantle out of action, the odds have further tilted in the Golden Eagles’ favor.
Seton Hall vs. Villanova (Feb. 11): Magic beyond Hinkle
The Seton Hall Pirates seemed to be rolling in conference play, with seven wins in their last eight games heading into last week’s games. The only thing preventing the Pirates from recovering after a home loss to the Creighton Blue Jays four days earlier were the Villanova Wildcats, who were looking to start another streak in a season full of them.
Villanova looked comfortable from the beginning, possessing a seven-point lead even though Al-Amir Dawes beat the buzzer to end the first half. The Wildcats went from comfortable to feeling fine, as they broke out on a 15-2 run and nearly secured the win with three minutes to play, but Seton Hall had other plans. Femi Odukale and Dawes buried two threes and the Pirates still had a chance despite two free throws from Caleb Daniels. Tyrese Samuel laid down the hammer and Jamir Harris made a three with seven seconds remaining, but Villanova survived two missed free throws from Justin Moore and topped Seton Hall 58-54.
Four out of Daniels’ five buckets were threes as he finished with 18 points while Dixon had 19 for the Wildcats. Samuel picked up a double-double of 14 and 10 for the Pirates while Dawes scored 13 without a rebound or an assist. Seton Hall plays again on Tuesday as they host the Georgetown Hoyas, but the conference’s fifth seed will essentially be determined on Saturday as they take on the UConn Huskies.
The Big East is a bizarre conference because no one knows what tricks are going to come out of anyone’s sleeves, whether it is a shocking upset or a breakout player. There is no certainty as conference play winds down, and this week might leave us with several burning questions.