A.J. Graves has struggled to score recently, but that hasn’t kept Butler from matching the best start in school history.
The 14th-ranked Bulldogs (14-1, 3-1 Horizon League) hope their second-leading scorer can regain his former Thursday night when they play host to Wisconsin Green Bay.
Butler and the Phoenix (9-5, 3-1) are tied for second place in the conference, one loss behind Cleveland State, which has played one less game. Green Bay is coming off a 52-49 win over Wright State, the conference’s defending regular season and league tournament champion.
The Bulldogs have won six straight and 20 of the last 25 meetings against the Phoenix. With a 66-55 win over Loyola of Illinois on Monday, Butler impoved to 14-1 for the fifth time in school history, most recently set last season.
The Bulldogs hope Graves, who averages 14.9 points per game, can snap out of his recent slump. Graves is a combined 4-for-17 from the field the last two games. He scored seven points, all in the first half, against Loyola, taking just three shots after halftime.
Coach Brad Stevens said he isn’t concerned by the slump. The last time Graves was held below 10 points for consecutive games, he responded with back-to-back games of 20-plus points.
“A.J. is one of the most unselfish people I know,” Stevens said. “Loyola did a good job of guarding him and he had to spread the ball around to other guys instead. There are nights where A.J. doesn’t score, but he doesn’t care as long as we win.”
Butler never trailed in the game. Mike Green, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer at 15.6 points, had 15 while freshman Matt Howard added a team-high 19.
“It’s a compliment to Mike and A.J.,” Howard said. “They consistently found me. A lot of my shots were real easy.”
Graves is hoping to bounce back Thursday against a team he did well against last season. He averaged 24.0 points in two matchups in 2006-07, and 16.6 in seven career contests.
Green Bay has won three of four, including two straight conference games. Ryan Tillema scored 17 points and Randy Berry added eight points and six rebounds on Saturday against the Raiders.
Tillema, who is second on the Phoenix in scoring with 12.2 points, has averaged 22.5 the last four games. He is 15-for-28 from 3-point range during that stretch.
The Phoenix lost their only game against a ranked opponent this season, falling 93-75 to then-No. 7 Michigan State on Dec. 29. Green Bay’s last win over a team in the top 25 was a 78-60 win over then-No. 22 Miami of Ohio in 1998.
The Bulldogs lead the overall series against Green Bay 23-13, and have won six straight.