Struggling Butler hasn’t played at Hinkle Fieldhouse since its opener. Its next matchup will at least be closer to home.
Coming off a tough tournament on the West Coast, the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs return to Indiana for an intrastate matchup with Ball State on Wednesday night.
Butler (4-2) went 1-2 at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., over the weekend. Both losses were against ranked teams, as the Bulldogs dropped their tournament opener 82-73 to then-No. 22 Minnesota on Thursday night and lost 70-69 to then-No. 19 Clemson three days later.
That was Butler’s fifth straight game away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, where it opened the season with a 73-62 win over Davidson on Nov. 14. The matchup at Ball State’s Worthen Arena is approximately 60 miles away from the Bulldogs’ home court.
Butler has won five in a row against Ball State (2-2), taking the most recent matchup 64-55 last Nov. 19, and leads the series 63-37.
Matt Howard paced the Bulldogs with 15 points in last season’s meeting, but the junior forward has been struggling. He scored 10 points or fewer in five of his six games this season, and picked up at least four fouls in each of his last five contests.
Howard had 10 points versus the Tigers and is averaging 11.3 points, 3.5 below his team-best average of 2008-09.
Shelvin Mack has taken over as Butler’s top scorer with 15.8 points a contest. The sophomore guard had 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists against Clemson, continuing his strong play after being held to seven points by Davidson.
Mack was limited to six points on 1-of-6 shooting against the Cardinals last season.
Sophomore swingman Gordon Hayward shot 3 for 9 and had nine points in that contest, but he’s helped Mack carry the scoring load for Butler this season with 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.
Hayward set season highs with 18 points and 12 rebounds against Clemson. He will likely be matched up at times with Ball State’s Jarrod Jones, who averages a team-high 14.8 points and 7.0 boards.
Jones, though, was held to a total of 21 points in two games after starting the season with two straight 19-point performances.
Jones had 12 points in the Cardinals’ 60-58 loss to UC Davis on Saturday. Ball State had a last-second shot fall short and dropped its second in a row.
“We have to continue to work hard in practice and continue to figure it out as we get ready for another tough game,” third-year coach Billy Taylor said.
A bright spot for Taylor has been the steady play of Jauwan Scaife. The freshman guard reached double figures in scoring in each of his four games while shooting 42.1 percent (8 for 19) from 3-point range and 94.1 percent (16 for 17) from the free-throw line.