EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP)—A.J. Graves had always dreamed of following his brothers onto the court of Evansville’s Roberts Stadium.
So Graves was quite pleased when his game-high 22 points led No. 25 Butler to a 60-47 win over the Aces on Saturday night.
“I like this place,” said Graves, beaming after the game. “What better ending to your childhood dream to come into a place like this and leave with a win.”
When Evansville (0-2) started fast, grabbing leads of 6-0 and 10-3 in the early going, Graves was the glue that kept the Bulldogs (3-0) from panicking.
“Our guys believe in him and he believes in them,” said first-year coach Brad Stevens. “Tonight was a night when Evansville gave us problems defensively and we had to lean on him and he did a nice job.”
The senior guard, who followed his two brothers to Butler, was at his best in the first half, especially at its close. His 3-pointer from 26 feet gave Butler the lead for good at 31-28 and gave him 14 points for the half.
“He was huge for us,” Stevens said. “He kept us in it in the first half and then helped us put it away in the second half.
The Bulldogs led 35-32 three minutes into the second half as the teams traded baskets. Butler became the first of the two to put together consecutive baskets, on 3-pointers by Drew Streicher and Graves, giving Butler a 41-32 lead. Evansville never came closer than seven points the rest of the game.
“We had too many mental lapses defensively, especially in the second half,” said first-year Evansville coach Marty Simmons. “We gave them too many open looks.”
Only Graves scored in double figures for Butler.
“Credit Evansville,” said Graves, “They gave us problems because they were ready to play early and we weren’t. But it’s good to get that challenge on the road and come out with a win.”
Evansville was led by junior guard Jason Holsinger with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists. Redshirt freshman Pieter van Tongeren added 10 points and a game-high six rebounds.
Butler now has won four straight against Evansville and eight of the last nine between the two in-state rivals.
It was the third straight in-state victory for Butler, which opened the season with wins at Ball State and at home over Indiana State.