Teammate Shawn Vanzant hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer just before the half to put the Bulldogs up 34-33 on visiting UIC at the break at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler would eventually walk away with a 72-65 win.
But underneath the hoop, while fighting for position with the ball in flight, Howard took a vicious elbow just above the right eye from Flames forward Paris Carter (See the play just past the 10-second mark of this highlight package).
Howard stood around on the sideline for a minute, was stitched up in the locker room and never returned.
"I've seen Matt look kind of like that before, haven't we?" coach Brad Stevens joked afterwards. "He's such a tough kid. The last thing he wants to do is sit for any time at the end of his career. I'm glad that we played the way that we did in the second half."
Stevens couldn't do anything but find humor in the situation afterwards, as Howard's injury is just the latest on a long list of physical woes plaguing his roster during the stretch run of a disappointing season.
At 16-9 overall and 8-5 in the Horizon League, Butler's chances of making another NCAA tournament run like last year's as an at-large have all but drifted away.
Howard will be monitored for concussion-like symptoms leading up to Thursday's game against Wright State.
It's hard to tell a guy who's been as crucial to the program's success over four years as Howard to sit unless he absolutely has to, but given the Bulldogs' current résumé, watching Thursday's contest and maybe even Saturday's home date with Detroit in street clothes might not be the end of the world. The risk just isn't worth it.
Last year's national runner-up will need Howard — who leads the team in points (17.1) and rebounds (7.8) per game — back at full strength for the Horizon League tourney, which at this point is probably its only ticket back to the dance.