INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—By the time Wright State figured out how to guard Butler’s Julian Betko, it was too late.
Betko scored a career-high 17 points, all in the first half, and the No. 14 Bulldogs held off Wright State 66-61 Thursday night to clinch the No. 1 seed in next week’s Horizon League tournament.
“They adjusted a little bit. They put their best defender on me and I didn’t get that many looks” in the second half, Betko said. “But it doesn’t matter, because it made other guys open.”
The 6-foot-6 senior from Slovakia topped his previous career high of 15 points in 14 minutes in the first half and missed his only attempt in the second period.
“I was ready to shoot, but I didn’t get that many looks,” he said.
He went 6-of-7 from the field, including 5-of-6 from long range in the first half to put Butler in control. After that, Mike Green had nine points in the second half and finished with 15, and Matt Howard added 12 points for the Bulldogs. Vaughn Duggins led Wright State with 17 points.
“It’s so hard to guard those guys,” Wright State coach Brad Brownell said. “They have so many good players.
“Obviously, we weren’t counting on him making 5-of-7 tonight,” he said. “But they have so many weapons, somebody eventually is going to get an open shot.”
Butler (26-3, 15-2), which had lost its past three games against Wright State, will finish the regular season against last-place Detroit on Saturday. The Bulldogs had already clinched at least a tie for the regular-season title, and the win assured them of the top seed and a bye into the conference tournament semifinals at Butler on March 8.
After the game, the Butler players cut down the nets in celebration of their regular-season title.
“It’s nice, but we still have a game to play on Saturday,” coach Brad Stevens said.
Stevens said the Bulldogs’ game plan wasn’t necessarily to go to Betko.
“He’s battled through a lot of adversity and he’s a tough guy,” Stevens said. “We didn’t intend for him to shoot that much, but that’s the way they played us and he was open.”
Wright State (20-8, 13-5) would get the No. 2 seed and a spot in the semifinals by beating Valparaiso on Saturday. But a loss to the Crusaders could drop the Raiders to the third seed and force them to play a first-round game at home on Tuesday.
“It’s a significant accomplishment, and they played well enough to do that,” Brownell said.
Betko, whose previous high this season was 14 points in a 43-42 loss at Wright State in December, bettered his career best against Tennessee last year with his fifth straight 3-pointer of the first half. That basket completed a seven-point run and gave the Bulldogs a 36-29 lead with under two minutes left in the period.
A 3-pointer by Duggins bounced on the rim and dropped in at the buzzer to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 36-32 at the half.
Wright State cut the lead to one twice midway through the second half. But six straight free throws and a 3-point basket by Green helped the Bulldogs pad the lead, and the Raiders never caught up.
Both teams were coming off losses. Butler’s 71-64 loss to Drake snapped a nine-game winning streak, and Wright State’s 54-46 setback to Illinois State ended run of 11 straight wins.