INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—When Ball State tried pushing Butler out of its offense Wednesday night, the Bulldogs shoved back.
Using their quickness to get open on offense and get back on defense, No. 15 Butler handed Ball State a humiliating 65-41 loss that kept the Bulldogs unbeaten and their surprising climb to national prominence intact.
“I guess I’m mostly impressed by the way our guys played together,” Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. “If you defend well, you do it as a team. If you’re a good offense, you have to do that together, too.”
The Bulldogs (10-0) have relied primarily on patience, intelligence, balanced scoring and discipline to win this season.
But on Wednesday, Butler demonstrated it could win another way—by running.
It cast aside its deliberate style for most of the game, easily beating Ball State’s press and often finding open shots before the Cardinals (3-5) could contest shots.
It was a mismatch from the start.
Mike Green scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Julian Betko and A.J. Graves each added 11 points as Butler protected its highest ranking since 1948-49—the first year of The Associated Press poll. The Bulldogs play Indiana State on Saturday.
Ball State shot only 29.8 percent from the field and scored its fewest points since a 58-41 loss to Dayton in 1957.
First-year coach Ronny Thompson, son of former Georgetown coach John Thompson and brother of the current Hoyas coach John Thompson III, has lost to three ranked teams this season—Kansas, Georgetown and Butler—and faces No. 22 Oklahoma State in San Diego on Saturday.
“Butler played good defense,” he said. “No one presses their game. They take what you give them. They’re quick but they don’t hurry, they’re deliberate but they attack. It’s a very, very, very good team.”
Butler has won 14 straight home games and tied the third-best start in school history.
Ball State, meanwhile, continues to search for answers after losing for the fifth time in six games. Anthony Newell had 11 points for the Cardinals in their worst loss of the season. Kansas beat Ball State by 18 points on Nov. 24.
This one was never close.
“I wasn’t too worried what they were doing, I was more worried about what we were doing,” Green said.
Butler appeared to be a step quicker on offense, and slid quickly into position on defense to cut off the scoring lanes. The result was predictable.
The Bulldogs broke to a 9-2 lead, then used a 13-4 run to make it 22-9 midway through the first half.
After that, things only got worse. Betko hit his first three shots, all 3-pointers, and both free throws in the first half as Butler extended the margin to 35-17.
Thompson thought it might be different in the second half.
“You hope they don’t stay focused for the whole 40 minutes, but they do that,” he said. “They frustrate you on offense the way we try to frustrate you on defense.”
Graves hit a 3 to start the second half, Green scored off a steal and then made two free throws to make it 42-20. Butler led by as much as 63-30 with 3:52 to go before a late scoring flurry allowed Ball State to narrowly escape the embarrassment of their worst loss in the 98-game history of the series (32).
But the bulldogs were far from satisfied.
“I think we take our focus up a notch each game, and we’ve got to keep taking it up a notch higher each game,” Green said. “We have all the right pieces and we play as one. We did what we do best tonight and it worked out for us.”