INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Butler seniors Pete Campbell and Mike Green spent Thursday morning worrying whether they would even play against Loyola of Chicago.
Then they demonstrated how much they mean to the Bulldogs success.
Campbell scored 15 points and Green added 13, leading No. 15 Butler to a 63-50 victory over the Ramblers on a chaotic game day that included pregame phone calls from school officials to the Horizon League with questions about possible rules violations.
“I didn’t think it would be any type of problem,” Campbell said. “We probably could have used better judgment, but it ended up being harmless.”
Fortunately for the Bulldogs (18-2, 7-2), the NCAA agreed.
But that wasn’t quite good enough for first-year Butler coach Brad Stevens, who declined to comment on the situation precipitated by the appearance of three seniors—Campbell, Green and Julian Betko—behind the Iowa bench Wednesday night at No. 7 Indiana. Stevens did acknowledge he was concerned.
All three players received tickets from the Iowa coaching staff. But Campbell, Green and Betko made the one-hour trip to Bloomington to see some old friends, namely new Hawkeyes coach Todd Lickliter and assistants Joel Cornette and LaVall Jordan, who all coached at Butler last season.
Eventually, the NCAA gave the three clearance to play, and Campbell and Green made the most of it.
For the first time in weeks, Butler looked like itself.
After a rash of sluggish starts, uncharacteristic shooting and sub-par defense, the Bulldogs finally got it right. They started fast, knocked down seven 3-pointers and took care of the basketball and Loyola.
“It’s not so much the offensive part we wanted today,” Green said. “We wanted to play defense, and that was probably the best defense we’ve played since Alaska (in November).”
The victory allowed the Bulldogs to match last year’s 20-game record as the best in school history. They also have won 30 of their last 32 home games.
And they did it in trademark fashion.
Green’s nifty drives and Campbell’s outside shooting opened things up inside for freshman forward Matt Howard, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulldogs committed just 10 turnovers, shot 45.6 percent from the field and limited Loyola (6-13, 2-7) to 39.6 percent shooting.
Heck, they even had a little flair, opening the second half with a rare alley-oop pass for a dunk by Drew Streicher.
It was the kind of night Stevens had been waiting to see—although he would have preferred seeing it under less stressful circumstances.
“I’m thrilled we outrebounded them because that was a point of emphasis for us,” Stevens said. “You can’t take a break against them, and I thought our guys did a good job, especially in the second half.”
The Ramblers, however, were overmatched by Butler’s seniors.
J.R. Blount led Loyola with 16 points, and Andy Polka had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Nobody else had more than five points.
“What Butler does so good is control the tempo,” Loyola coach Jim Whitesell said. “Howard is such a good inside threat that if you overhelp on him, you give up the jump shot. If you underhelp on him, he gets the shot.”
Even with A.J. Graves still in a shooting slump, the Ramblers couldn’t make a serious challenge.
Graves, the MVP of last season’s Preseason NIT, was 2-of-11 from the field, finished with five points and failed to reach double digits for the ninth time in 11 conference games.
Yet the Bulldogs had plenty of help from Green, Campbell and Howard.
All three played an instrumental role in Butler building a 28-14 lead with 6:24 left in the first half. Loyola scored seven of the final 10 points in the half to close to 32-23 and scored six straight points early in the second half to make it 34-29.
The Bulldogs answered that with a 10-2 run, extending the lead to 44-31, and ended Loyola’s last serious challenge when Streicher hit a 3-pointer with 6:56 left to make it 51-41.
Loyola never got closer than eight points the rest of the way and a series that has traditionally been marked with close games turned into a season sweep and an atypical easy win for Butler.
“Any time you’re not playing up to your potential it’s frustrating,” Green said. “We want to guard, and when we do that we’re hard to beat.”