January 16, 2011

Wright State Takes 69-64 Decision From Bulldogs

DAYTON, OHIO -- A three-point field goal attempt to tie the game by Butler’s Shelvin Mack with 0:06 remaining hit the back of the rim and the front of the rim twice, before popping out, and host Wright State held on to hand the Bulldogs a 69-64 setback at the Nutter Center on Sunday (Jan. 16) evening.

The loss dropped Butler out of a first place tie in the Horizon League.  The Bulldogs fell to 13-6 overall and 5-2 in league play, tied for second place with Wright State and Cleveland State one game behind Valparaiso.

“Both teams played with a lot of energy and played competitively.  I think the difference in the game was when they had a few possessions in a row in the first half where they got the ball back off the glass, that we would have liked to have back,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens after the game.  “And we gave up buckets at the rim at the end of the game.”

Senior N’Gai Evans scored a career-high 26 points, including five decisive points in the final minute, to fuel the Raiders’ victory.  The 6-2 guard, who continually attacked the Bulldogs with drives to the basket, hit eight of 10 shots from the field and 10 of 12 from the free throw line to compile his game-high total.

“I think (Evans) is in the discussion for All-League with a lot of guys,” added Stevens.  “He’s playing at a really high level.  He’s turned into one of the best players in the league.”

The game featured 15 lead changes and was tied 10 times, including at halftime, 34-34.  The Bulldogs grabbed their biggest lead of the second half at 60-55 on a jump shot in the lane by senior Zach Hahn with 4:32 remaining.  But Wright State (12-7, 5-2 HL) stormed back with six straight points, the last two on a jumper by senior Cooper Land.

Butler grabbed the lead back, 62-61, on Matt Howard’s lay-up with 1:03 left, but Evans came down and converted a conventional three-point play with 0:46 remaining to put the Raiders on top for good.  The Wright State guard added two free throws with 0:29 left to make it 66-62.

But a Zach Hahn basket cut the margin to 66-64 with 0:15 left and when Land hit one of two free throws a second later, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie on Mack’s three-point attempt.  The shot didn’t fall, though, and Wright State closed with a pair of free throws for the final margin.

The Bulldogs, behind the solid inside play of sophomore Andrew Smith, led for most of the first half, including a six-point advantage in the first minute.  Smith scored 12 points in the first 20 minutes, but managed just three more in the second half.

“We didn’t get the ball inside enough, there’s no question about that,” noted Stevens.   “But at the same time they were making it really difficult and it wasn’t just their bigs.  Their guards were really physical with us and for whatever reason, we couldn’t get the ball where we wanted to get the ball.”

Smith, who added a team-high eight rebounds, was one of three Butler players to finish in double figures.  Senior Matt Howard and junior Shelvin Mack each had 12 points.  Land scored 13 points and senior Vaughn Duggins added 10 for the Raiders.

The Bulldogs, who had a three-game winning streak snapped with the setback, had an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers in the game, and the Raiders finished with a 16-4 advantage in points off turnovers.

Butler will return home for a pair of league tests, beginning with a game against Green Bay on Friday, Jan. 21.  That nationally-televised contest will start at 7 p.m. (ET) at Hinkle Fieldhouse.