INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Butler relied on old-fashioned hard work Saturday.
With their usually reliable 3-point shooters out of sync and typically careful ball-handlers struggling early, the 16th-ranked Bulldogs reverted to a proven strategy: Play defense and make free throws.
That combination, and Mike Green’s 24 points, helped Butler rally from a nine-point first-half deficit to beat new Horizon League foe Valparaiso 73-65.
“When you’re not making shots, you’ve got to take good care of the basketball and most importantly believe in one another,” first-year coach Brad Stevens said. “You have to recognize there’s a lot of possessions in a basketball game and I think experience helps you recognize that.”
Experience certainly helped Butler (13-1, 2-1) win on an off-day.
The Bulldogs entered ranked among the nation’s top 10 in 3-pointers and fewest turnovers per game, yet committed six turnovers in the first 10 minutes and shot just 3-of-11 from 3-point range in the first half.
The sluggishness after an eight-day layoff even hit A.J. Graves, Butler’s best shooter. He was 2-of-10 from the field and finished with five points.
So Butler improvised.
Green—with a little prodding from freshman guard Shawn Vanzant—asserted himself and wound up matching his career high in points. Green also finished with eight rebounds, four assists and five steals, most coming during a dominant second half.
Butler has now won five straight and tied the best start in school history despite playing only four home games this season.
“Shawn thinks I can do no wrong,” Green said. “So at halftime, he was telling me to back up and shoot the 3s. It sort of opened things up for me.”
Green didn’t do much wrong Saturday. He went 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, 11-of-14 from the free-throw line, had only two turnovers in 38 minutes and managed to get Butler righted.
Valparaiso (11-4, 2-1) had no answer for the Bulldogs’ point guard, who continually beat defenders with dribble penetration and then started hitting from outside. Jarryd Loyd’s late scoring flurry led to a team-high 15 points, while three Crusaders—Brandon McPherson, Samuel Haanpaa and Jake Diebler— each finished with 10.
The Crusaders have lost three of four, all on the road to Wisconsin, North Carolina and Butler.
“Mike Green had 24 points, made some 3s and really penetrated for them,” Valparaiso coach Homer Drew said. “He did a really good job breaking us down and creating things for his teammates.”
At times, Green looked like a one-man show.
He scored five straight points to give Butler the lead for good, at 40-36 early in the second half, five more in a row during a spurt that helped the Bulldogs extend their lead and five more in a row when Butler took its biggest lead, 58-45 with 5:33 left.
But that certainly wasn’t how the game started.
Valparaiso, which came in as one of the Horizon’s two unbeaten teams in conference play, broke to a 15-6 lead, then used a 9-2 run to rebuild a 24-15 lead with 7:38 left in the half.
That’s when Green changed the game.
By driving to the basket and finding open teammates, the Bulldogs got Valparaiso into foul trouble, and backup swingman Willie Veasley’s eight-point flurry got Butler back into the game. When Green finally hit a 3 with 1:28 left in the half, Butler had its first lead, 31-29.
From there, the Bulldogs took advantage of Valparaiso’s miscues.
“We had 16 turnovers and that really hurt us,” Drew said. “A lot came when we had the lead in the first half, which let them get back in the game, and in the second half when they had a chance to extend the lead. Free throws and turnovers were our thing.”
Butler used three 7-0 runs in the second half to eventually take control and then put the game away by continually making free throws. Butler finished 28-of-33 from the line.
“We guarded and when you’re playing games when you’re not hitting shots, you can still guard,” Green said. “We’d have been satisfied if the game was 32-31.”