INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—When Butler’s old standby failed, the Bulldogs successfully reinvented themselves.
No. 14 Butler, a team known for its strong perimeter game, dominated the paint in a 74-65 victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs, who usually take half their shots from 3-point range, instead got the Phoenix into foul trouble and took advantage.
Matt Howard led the inside charge for the Bulldogs (15-1, 4-1 Horizon League) with 22 points and nine rebounds. The freshman forward was 5-for-6 from the field and made 12 of 15 free throws.
“We knew this was going to be a real physical game,” Howard said. “That’s how they play. When stuff’s not falling, you’ve got to attack the rim and get free throws.”
The Bulldogs outrebounded Green Bay 38-30 and outscored the Phoenix 29-10 from the free throw line for their seventh straight win.
Butler was 3-for-19 from 3-point range, but 18-for-31 inside the arc. Guard A.J. Graves said the Bulldogs knew their perimeter game was off, so they rode the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Howard.
“I think it’s always an emphasis to go in to Matt because that opens things up,” Graves said. “He’s a good presence for us in there and he’s strong and gets buckets for us.”
Terry Evans led Green Bay (9-6, 3-2) with 12 points and 13 rebounds, Rahmon Fletcher scored 12 points and Mike Schachtner added 11 points.
Three Green Bay players fouled out, something that bothered coach Tod Kowalczyk. When asked if he would talk about the 41-18 discrepancy in free throw attempts, he said “No,” and walked out of the interview room.
Mike Green scored 18 points, Graves added 13 and Willie Veasley had seven points and a career-high 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who tied the 2002-03 team for the best start in school history.
Graves, one of the nation’s most feared 3-point specialists, had two old-fashioned three-point plays and failed to make a 3-point shot.
Howard said Graves’ presence, along with Butler’s other perimeter threats, was enough.
“If I’m scoring, it’s going to free them up, and I get my points because they’re such great shooters,” Howard said. “Teams have to respect them, and a lot of times, I get one-on-one. For most guys, if you’re pretty good in the post, one-on-one is a pretty easy way to score.”
Green Bay led 23-16 midway through the first half, but Butler chipped away and took a 36-34 lead on two free throws by Graves two minutes before halftime. Butler led 37-34 at halftime despite shooting an unusually poor 10-for-17 from the free throw line. Howard had 16 points and five rebounds in the first half.
Green Bay took a quick 38-37 lead in the second half before Butler responded with a 15-5 run to go up 52-43 with 11 minutes to play.
Schachtner, Green Bay’s leading scorer this season, fouled out with 7:24 to go. Veasley made the free throw on the three-point play after Schachtner’s foul to give Butler a 61-49 lead.
Uriel Segura made consecutive 3-pointers to help Green Bay cut the lead to 64-59, but the Phoenix got no closer.
Graves said he expects similar challenges throughout league play.
“It was a tough night,” he said. “I think all the games are going to be tough. This is a tough conference, and everybody’s gunning for you. We just had to claw and fight. I think that’s the way it’s going to be the rest of the season.”