TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP)—When Indiana State’s Gabe Moore realized this wasn’t the same Butler team he watched upset four big-name programs in November, he took matters into his own hands.
The quickest Sycamore kept beating the Bulldogs to open spots for shots and setting up teammates Saturday night, almost single-handedly ending the nation’s most surprising start in a 72-64 upset victory over No. 15 Butler.
“Not to disrespect their team or anything, I really saw that they weren’t very quick,” Moore said after scoring a career-high 24 points. “I just tried to utilize my speed to get open shots for my teammates.”
Moore delivered with the best game of his three-year career, and the students celebrated by mobbing Indiana State’s players at midcourt—including Moore.
Admittedly, the Bulldogs usual brand of basketball wasn’t the same.
Butler (10-1) shot only 33.3 percent from the field in the first half, couldn’t get to the free-throw line and failed to make up ground after digging its biggest deficit of the season, 14 points, at the start of the second half.
One problem was the loss of sharpshooting guard A.J. Graves, the Bulldogs’ top scorer and the MVP of the NIT Season Tip-Off. He was poked in the right eye on a drive late in the first half and did not return until 11:29 remained in the game.
The Bulldogs’ other guard, Mike Green, also was ineffective much the second half because of foul trouble. So with Butler struggling, Moore and his teammates took advantage.
“I wouldn’t be honest if I said they didn’t struggle a little more when he (Graves) wasn’t in there,” Indiana State coach Royce Waltman said. “It’s easier to defend them when you don’t have to constantly worry about him getting the ball.”
Butler had become a national story after beating Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga during an 11-day stretch in November, and their perfect start allowed them to rise in the rankings to their best position since 1948-49 — the first year of The Associated Press poll.
But with the Sycamores (5-3) hosting their highest-ranked opponent since Bradley was No. 13 in February 1986, they were ready make a statement.
Indiana State forced Butler to rely primarily on outside shots, and the Bulldogs were just 8-of-28 from beyond the arc.
And without Graves, who still had blurred vision after the game, Indiana State played patiently long enough to beat the Bulldogs at their own game.
“They got off to a good start and we could never catch up,” Graves said after scoring 14. “One thing we do know is that now there will be no more buzz and we can get back to business.”
Butler was led by Green who scored 18 points, and Brandon Crone who had 15 including all three of his 3-pointers in the second half.
Still, it wasn’t enough to prevent a third straight loss to Indiana State.
The reason was as simple as Moore and Trent Wurtz, who had 15 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s a big win because it gives us a lot of momentum going into the conference season,” center Jay Tunnell said. “As big a win as it is for this program, it’s even bigger because it gives us more confidence.”
Nothing went right for the Bulldogs.
They missed their first five shots and got into early foul trouble— uncharacteristic problems for a team that played almost flawless in its first 10 games.
Even a defense that had held three straight opponents to season-low point totals struggled.
Indiana State took advantage midway through the first half.
Moore’s 10-footer with 6:34 left broke an 18-18 tie and set off a decisive 17-5 run to end the half. That gave Indiana State a 35-23 lead.
The second half wasn’t much different. Moore’s opening basket extended the margin to 14 and while Butler rallied, they never could close.
Three times they cut the lead to seven, but Moore always had an answer and his steal and layup with 1:31 left sealed the win.
Indiana State made 21 of 28 free throws, a season-high 75 percent.
“I wouldn’t trade what we had going for anything,” Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. “You know we won’t have to worry about that any more, though. I think these guys have been very businesslike all along, they handled the pressure and I think we’ve got great character. Now we’ve got some adversity and I expect them to handle it the same way.”