No. 13 Butler holds off Valparaiso 59-51
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Butler ditched the pretty game plan and proved it can win with sheer toughness.
Freshman Gordon Hayward scored 18 points, Willie Veasley added 13 and the 13th-ranked Bulldogs finished strong to hold off Valparaiso 59-51 and tie the Horizon League record with 21 consecutive conference victories.
“I don’t think we’re going to throw our arms in the air and be thankful we’ve tied a record,” second-year coach Brad Stevens said. “I think we’ll go back and get ready for Green Bay.”
Clearly, there’s work to do.
While Butler (19-1, 10-0) extended school records for best overall start and best start in Horizon League play, the Bulldogs had little to celebrate.
Two of their top scorers, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, spent much of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. They committed more turnovers in the first half (12) than they average in an entire game (11.7). They finished with 18, one short of matching a season-high, and during one stretch connected on just 8-of-28 shots. Even the free throws were off. The Bulldogs were 19-for-30 from the line.
That’s not Butler basketball.
But on Friday, the team that starts three freshmen and a sophomore proved it could win ugly.
“I thought we were really lackadaisical in the first part of the game and we were not tough at all,” Hayward said. “But we all stuck together when things didn’t go our way and we pulled it out.”
One reason was Hayward, who had a significant part in the three runs that dictated the game.
He scored with five points in a 10-0 run to open the game, and picked off two passes and scored on a putback and a layup to open the second half when Butler extended its two-point halftime cushion to a 30-22 lead.
Hayward also scored four points and had a steal in Butler’s closing 18-8 run, crucial contributions when Howard and Mack were trying to avoid their fifth fouls.
Yet rather than savor a record-tying win, Hayward and his teammates were more concerned with the problems that put Butler’s winning streaks—11 in a row overall and 15 straight at Hinkle Fieldhouse—in jeopardy.
“There were way too many turnovers, kind of uncharacteristic with us. I don’t know what that was all about,” Hayward said. “I don’t think some of us were here tonight, but we’ve got to bounce back.”
They must do it in a hurry, too.
Butler can break the conference record Sunday when it visits Wisconsin-Green Bay, which holds the record. Then they head to Detroit and Wright State to close out a four-game stretch in nine days.
One of Valparaiso’s best efforts of the season wasn’t enough.
The Crusaders (6-16, 3-8) steadily fought back after getting in the 10-0 hole but never capitalized completely on Butler’s miscues and it proved costly.
Urule Igbavboa led Valpo with 15 points and freshman Logan Jones scored 10 points off the bench, the only players to reach double figures. The Crusaders also committed far too many turnovers (21) and lost for the seventh time in nine games.
“It was a tough, tough game and I thought our team played very hard the entire game,” coach Homer Drew said. “You know with 1:31 to go it was 52-50 and we had some chances, but they answered the call. That’s what a good team does.”
Valpo tied the score at 37 when Jones and Igbavboa hit consecutive 3s with 6:50 to go and took its only lead of the game, 43-41, when Jones made two free throws 55 seconds later.
That’s when Butler finally started looking like its familiar self.
Veasley hit a 5-foot runner to tie it, Ronald Nored made one free throw to give Butler a 44-43 lead and Veasley followed that with two free throws and layup. When Howard completed a three-point play with 2:48 to go, Butler had a seemingly safe 51-43 lead.
Instead, Nored gave the Crusaders another chance by fouling Jake Diebler on a 3, turning it into a four-point play. That got Valpo within 52-50.
Nored made amends by hitting two free throws, turning it into a two possession game and the Bulldogs closed it out by going 5-for-8 from the line in the final 52 seconds.
“When you have a number next to your (team) name, it makes it hard,” Howard said. “I’m not saying that’s what everyone is playing for, but that may be what some teams are playing for (the upset) and that always puts a target on your back.”