Bulldogs Upend Cleveland State, 73-61
CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Senior Matt Howard led five players in double figures and Butler pulled away in the second half to defeat league-leading Cleveland State, 73-61, at the Wolstein Center on Saturday, Feb. 5. The win snapped Butler's three-game losing skid and gave the Bulldogs a season sweep of the first place Vikings.
Howard scored 11 of his team-high 14 points after intermission. He hit three of six shots from beyond the three-point arc in the final 20 minutes, including one as the shot clock wound down in the closing minutes that gave Butler a 71-59 lead.
The performance of the 6-8 forward was part of a complete team effort that helped the Bulldogs hand Cleveland State its first home loss in front of the first sell-out crowd (8,490) in the program's history.
"One thing that's hard when you're going through (a losing steak) is to see that we're not far from being a pretty good basketball team," said Butler coach Brad Stevens after the win. "When you lose three straight, two in overtime and one by two points, you can feel like you're a long way away, and I think these guys did a great job of staying focused and staying together. And it's hard to do that when things aren't going your way."
The Bulldogs (15-9, 7-5 Horizon League) withstood an early hit from Cleveland State (21-4, 10-3 HL) and rallied from an eight-point deficit, 16-8, to take a 33-29 lead at halftime. Seven different players contributed to Butler's 33 first-half points, with Andrew Smith, Shawn Vanzant, Zach Hahn and Khyle Marshall contributing six points apiece.
The Vikings, who had won 13 consecutive home games and six straight games overall, tied the game four times in the first seven minutes of the second half, before Smith gave the Bulldogs the lead for good with a short jumper with 12:34 remaining. Butler's margin didn't get above four points for the next four minutes, until Garrett Butcher banked in a jump shot from the top of the key to make it 55.49.
Howard gave the Bulldogs their first double-digits lead, 63-53, with a three-point field goal at 4:48, and Shelvin Mack gave Butler its biggest lead, 73-59, with a jump shot with just under a minute remaining.
"Our ball movement in the second half was about as good as its been," noted Stevens.
The Bulldogs had 17 assists on 29 field goals in the win. Mack finished with a game-high seven assists, one off his career-high.
Smith, who scored a career-high 22 points in Butler's victory over Cleveland State at Hinkle Fieldhouse in January, finished with 13 points, while Marshall came off the bench with 12. Mack had 11 points and six rebounds to go with his seven assists, and Vanzant finished with 10 points.
Vanzant and junior Ronald Nored, who didn't start because of a cut on his hand suffered in Butler's loss at Youngstown State, turned in a strong defensive performance on league-scoring leader Norris Cole, who finished with 15 points on four of 13 shooting. Jeremy Montgomery led the Vikings with 18 points, while Tim Kamczyc added 12.
The Bulldogs return home to host UIC on Monday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. It will be the third game in five days for both teams.