VALPARAISO, IND. -- Butler didn't score a field goal in the first nine minutes of the game and host Valparaiso pulled away to a lead that proved decisive in a 71-59 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Friday (Feb. 24). The game was the final regular season contest for both squads.
The Crusaders (21-10, 14-4 HL), having already clinched the Horizon League regular season title, scored the first five points of the game and stretched the margin to 16-2 before Butler notched its first field goal. The Bulldogs never got the lead under double-digits the rest of the half and trailed at halftime, 31-21.
Butler missed it first 12 shots of the game and managed just eight of 27 (29.6%) for the first half.
"The first possession of the game, we had the ball at the rim three times and we didn't convert," said Butler head coach Brad Stevens of the Bulldogs' start. "We had the ball at the rim multiple times throughout the game and just didn't convert."
"Defensively, we just got spread out, and I actually thought it could have been worse. They missed some open shots," added the Butler coach.
The Bulldogs fell behind by 14 points, 35-21, in the first 75 seconds of the second half and spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. Butler did close to within six points, 60-54, on a three-point field goal by sophomore Chrishawn Hopkins with two minutes remaining, but the Crusaders held on at the free throw line.
Valparaiso hit 20 of 25 (80%) free throws in the final 20 minutes and 26 of 33 for the game. The Crusaders also hit 52.9% (9-17) of their shots from the field in the second half and 47.6% (20-42) for the game.
"I thought Valpo was terrific. They spread the floor, drove us, finished at the rim. They played like the No. 1 seed in the tournament," noted Stevens.
Sophomore Khyle Marshall (above right), who sparked Butler's comeback attempts with a strong performance off the bench, led the Bulldogs with 17 points, while junior Andrew Smith finished with 12. Senior Ronald Nored (right), who had Butler's only two points in the first nine minutes of the game, finished with 11 points and eight assists.
Center Kevin Van Wijk led the Crusaders with 18 points, before fouling out late in the game. Will Bogan added 14, including three three-point field goals, and Ben Boggs finished with 11, including seven of seven from the free throw line.
The Bulldogs (18-13, 11-7 HL), who could have clinched the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship, will have to wait until the conclusion of the four league games on Saturday (Feb. 25) to find where they'll play next. Butler could end up with anything from the No. 2 to the No. 5 seed in the tournament. First round games start at campus sites on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
(Photos by John Fetcho)