No. 18 Butler douses Flames 73-55
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Butler is content letting everybody else talk about the impressive numbers. Players and coaches will just keep focusing on winning games.
Right now, the two styles are working perfectly.
Matt Howard scored 17 points and Ronald Nored added a career-high 16 points Wednesday night, leading the No. 18 Bulldogs to a 73-55 victory over Illinois-Chicago and a school-record 16th consecutive win.
“It means we’ve been focused during the whole streak,” sophomore forward Gordon Hayward said after his third straight double-double. “You know, it’s nice to have the numbers, but we don’t focus on the past. We’re always looking forward.”
Next up: Siena on Saturday.
But the Bulldogs are finally playing like the team people expected when the season started.
Butler (24-4, 17-0 Horizon League) has now matched Murray State for the nation’s longest winning streak and broken the school record of 15 straight victories initially set in 1999-2000. It’s the first team in Horizon League history to win 17 conference games in a season. A win at Valparaiso next week would not only give the Bulldogs 12 road wins this season, but also the first perfect league mark since Wisconsin-Green Bay went 16-0 in 1995-96.
Well, the Bulldogs have already clinched their fourth straight regular-season conference crown and home-court advantage in the Horizon League tourney.
Wednesday’s win even moved coach Brad Stevens into a tie for No. 3 among coaches with the most wins in their first three seasons. Stevens, North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge and North Carolina State’s Everett Case have all won 80 games. Another win would tie Stevens with Nevada’s Mark Fox and Gonzaga’s Mark Few for No. 1.
But the Bulldogs aren’t paying attention to those things.
“It’s our job to come in every day and get better, whether we’re playing UIC or Siena,” Nored said.
And nobody is playing better than Butler, which limited the Flames (6-20, 2-14) to 31.4 percent shooting from the field—a season-best for the Bulldogs.
Illinois-Chicago was led by Robo Kreps with 15 points and Jeremy Buttell with 10. Nobody else reached double figures and the Flames lost for the 12th time in 13 games, falling to 0-14 on the road this season.
Even the possibility of looking past a team that has only one win since New Year’s Day and an awful start couldn’t derail the Bulldogs.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the most beautiful thing in the world,” Stevens said. “But I’m happy we won.”
On the floor, it was a complete mismatch.
The Flames opened the game in a 2-3 zone, confounding the Bulldogs. Butler started 6 of 21 from the field and trailed 15-14 with 8:54 left in the first half.
Butler’s shooters didn’t languish league.
Nored took advantage of the big openings by repeatedly driving to the basket. He and Willie Veasley, who finished with 11 points, combined for all of Butler’s points in a 9-0 run that turned the game and gave the Bulldogs a 23-15 lead.
After that, Illinois-Chicago never really challenged.
“I thought we gave a lot of effort tonight,” coach Jimmy Collins said. “But when you’re trying to match up with guys that play that well together …”
It’s almost impossible.
The Bulldogs extended their 32-25 halftime lead to double digits early in the second half, then used a 6-0 run to take a 15-point lead before closing it out with a 13-0 spurt. That gave Butler a 69-43 lead with 3:39 to go.
Hayward had 11 points and 11 rebounds, his third straight double-double. Howard, the reigning conference player of the year, made all 11 of his free-throw attempts and grabbed five rebounds. And Nored had four rebounds and four assists to go with his career-best scoring night.
“It (the streak) is meaningful, but it’s not something that we’ve talked about,” Stevens said. “Maybe we’ll sit and enjoy it in April or May, but not now—especially with the team we have coming in here Saturday.”