No. 12 Butler gets past Wisconsin-Milwaukee 68-59
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Butler guard Ronald Nored demonstrated he can do more than just defend.
He can score and rebound like a Horizon League player of the year, too.
Nored had 13 points, eight rebounds and big hand in the Bulldogs’ decisive run Saturday, leading No. 12 Butler to a 68-59 victory over rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“It was really down, those late possessions, in that (Horizon) championship game last year that we didn’t really do what we were supposed to do, that’s make tough plays so I think that’s really kind of been a focus,” Nored said.
Nobody made more big plays Saturday than Nored, this year’s co-defensive player of the year, and Matt Howard, last year’s Horizon League player of the year.
The two combined to score all 10 points in Butler’s critical run, turning a one-point game into a seven-point lead.
It was enough to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 19 games and punch Butler’s ticket to its fifth straight conference title game. The top-seeded Bulldogs will face second-seeded Wright State, a 69-50 winner over Detroit in Saturday’s other semifinal, Tuesday night on their home court.
The victory also kept Butler (27-4) a perfect 14-0 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, perfect against league foes at 19-0, and the favorite for teams still hoping to sneak into this year’s NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs are going to the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the league title game, but if they slip up like last year at home against Cleveland State and have to go via the at-large route, it’ll cost some team hoping to be picked by the selection committee.
“It’s a little bit of unfinished business, you feel like when you get all that way and then you don’t finish the deal,” Howard said. “It’s the same thing this year. We’re focused, we want to win that, we don’t feel comfortable with where we’re, I can tell you that.”
Butler certainly need a more typical game than it had against the Panthers (20-14).
Gordon Hayward, this season’s conference player of the year, scored just one point in the second half and finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Howard had 18 points and four rebounds. And Nored delivered the kind of all-around performance normally reserved for the higher-profile guys.
Another problem: Butler’s 3-point shooting was off. The Bulldogs were 4 of 18 on 3s.
So Nored and his teammates got things started with defense.
Though Milwaukee’s Anthony Hill finished with 15 points and James Eayrs had 10, Butler limited Milwaukee to four baskets during a stretch of nearly 16 minutes sandwiched around halftime.
“We were not able to finish the first half the way we like to play basketball because of our foul trouble,” Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said. “We get the lead to 10, we have to sit five guys with two fouls and we were unable to finish the half the way we like to play, which carried over into the second half. … We got to this point by playing a certain style, and it was just unfortunate we didn’t get to finish that style out.”
Milwaukee’s rugged play caused all kinds of problems for the Bulldogs, who looked rusty after an eight-day break.
The Panthers jumped to a 25-15 lead in the first half and still led 29-28 at halftime.
And when it looked like Butler might take control early in the second half, taking a 38-31 lead with 15:53 to go, Milwaukee continued to scrap.
But the Bulldogs had an answer for every challenge.
When Milwaukee closed to 44-40, Willie Veasley hit a 3. When the Panthers closed to 48-47, Howard laid in an alley-oop that hung tantalizingly on the rim before dropping through the net. And when the Panthers got within 50-49, Howard drew a foul in the post, made two free throws and Nored completed a three-point play on the ensuing possession to make it 55-49. Butler pushed the lead to as much as 10 and Milwaukee never got closer than seven the rest of the night.
Now Butler can try and complete the mission with a second tourney title in three years and another NCAA bid, though that topic has been off-limits around Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“These guys have not once talked about seeding, they have not once talked about NCAA tournament and they’re locker room is right next to my office and I have not once heard bracketology or any of that stuff from them,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “These guys stay pretty focused on the task at hand.”