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Villanova beats Butler, 85-66, in home opener for Jay Wright’s 600th career win

Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl each scored 18 points to lead the seventh-ranked Wildcats.

Coach Jay Wright, right,  of Villanova after their 85-66 victory over Butler on Dec. 16, 2020 at the Finneran Pavilion at Villanova University. It was his 600th career win.
Coach Jay Wright, right, of Villanova after their 85-66 victory over Butler on Dec. 16, 2020 at the Finneran Pavilion at Villanova University. It was his 600th career win.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Villanova’s Collin Gillespie had no clue that his coach, Jay Wright, had picked up his 600th career victory on Wednesday night.

“I actually just found out,” Gillespie said after the seventh-ranked Wildcats defeated Butler, 85-66, in a Big East game. “He didn’t mention it at all, not once, when he came into the locker room. I found out from a few of our grad assistants and I said congratulations to him.”

Wright, who is in his 20th season on the Main Line after beginning his head coaching career with seven seasons at Hofstra, had to watch his team battle with the Bulldogs -- who were playing their first game in three weeks -- until it pulled away in the final five minutes.

And he wasn’t in celebration mode afterward.

“I know I don’t give you guys any good stuff,” he said in his postgame Zoom call with reporters, “but I really feel like I’m lucky to be a coach at Villanova. I look back at the history, everybody that’s been here has won.

“I have a great job. You get great assistants that want to work here. You get great support from your president, your athletic director. We’re doing a pretty good job, but I’m fortunate enough to have this job. That’s what I think about it.”

» READ MORE: Villanova’s remaining schedule includes 16 Big East games, the conference announces

In the home opener for the Wildcats (6-1, 2-0 Big East) at an empty Finneran Pavilion, Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 18 points apiece to lead four players in double figures. Gillespie got hot late, scoring nine straight points in a closing 17-8 spurt over the final five minutes.

Until the final stretch, it was hard for anyone to realize that the Bulldogs were seeing their first competition since an opening-night win over Western Michigan, which was followed by four postponements. They got off to a great start behind Jair Bolden, who starred at Westtown Friends, with Bolden’s 13 points getting them off to a 17-10 lead.

They were still within nine with six minutes remaining but slowly ran out of gas. It didn’t help that point guard Aaron Thompson left the game with 4 minutes, 36 seconds remaining with an apparent knee injury.

“You’re not thinking about it during the game, but now that it’s over, and you see down the stretch, they can’t be in game shape,” Wright said of the Bulldogs. “I think they might have practiced three or four days and I feel for them. I wasn’t feeling for them when they were kicking our butt in the first half, but I expected that. They’re a great program and I knew they were going to battle.”

Bolden finished with 18 points for Butler (1-1, 0-1) and Thompson added 14.

Justin Moore contributed 13 points and Jermaine Samuels 12 plus six rebounds for Villanova.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of his 600th win for Wright came as he walked off the court and spotted bundled-up university president Rev. Peter Donohue.

“Father Peter came in the second half,” Wright said. “He said they said something on TV and he’s like, ‘Aw, I thought I’d better get down there if it was his 600th win.’ He was the only fan in the place.”

» READ MORE: Villanova gets used to playing inside an empty Finneran Pavilion