Second Half Rally Carries Bulldogs Past Evansville
EVANSVILLE, IND. -- Junior Alex Barlow scored a career-high 16 points and ignited a strong second half performance to lift visiting Butler to a 69-58 victory over Evansville at the Ford Center on Saturday (Dec. 21). The win was the fourth in a row for the Bulldogs, who improved to 9-2 on the season.
Barlow shook off a cold-shooting first half and scored 11 of his points after intermission. He fueled a key 8-0 Butler run midway through the second half with a three-point field goal, an assist on a three-pointer by sophomore Kellen Dunham and a steal and a lay-up. The run took Butler from a 41-40 deficit to a 48-41 advantage and the lead for good.
"He makes winning plays time and time again," said Butler head coach Brandon Miller of his junior point-guard. "He went on a stretch himself in the second half of that game and changed the game."
"We were asking him to guard the other team's best player and run our team at the same time, and he was very good tonight," added Miller.
In addition to his scoring, Barlow finished with eight rebounds, two assists and a game-high four steals. He also spent 29 minutes chasing Evansville's D. J. Balentine, who entered the game ranked among the "Top 15" scorers in the NCAA Division I.
"Barlow does a lot of things for us that normally wouldn't show up on the stat sheet," said senior forward Khyle Marshall. "He's a tough guy. He's normally going to be in there guarding their best guards. Just earlier this week in practice, Coach Miller stepped in an said isn't it a coincidence how every time when we're watching film and we see winning play clips, Alex Barlow is always part of it."
Barlow had plenty of help against the Aces. Marshall scored 10 of his 12 points in the final six minutes, including four clutch free throws down the stretch to help hold off Evansville's comeback attempts. Junior Kameron Woods grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs to a commanding 49-31 rebounding advantage and a 16-8 edge in second chance points. And Dunham, despite being the focus of Evansville's defense, chipped in with 15 points.
Evansville (6-6) scored the first four points of the game and held an advantage for much of the first half, which was eight lead changes and the score tied nine times. Ballentine hit a three-point field goal in the closing seconds of the opening period to give the Aces a 32-29 halftime lead.
The two teams, playing for the 119th time in a long series, continued to trade leads in the second half, until the decisive Barlow-led run. The Bulldogs stretched their lead to as many as 14 points, 65-61, on a pair of free throws by Barlow with under a minute remaining, before settling for the nine-point victory.
"To start the game, we came out and had a focus on the defensive end of the floor, but for whatever reason, we weren't as sharp as we have been in other games," stated Miller. "In the beginning of the second half, I thought we regrouped, had a focus about us and played with the intensity we needed to play with."
"Our older guys played very well in the second half of the game and competed and we ended up on top."
Balentine wound up leading all scorers with 26 points, but he was the lone Evansville player to reach double-figures and he needed 21 shots to amass his total. The Bulldogs held Evansville to 10-30 (.333) shooting in the final 20 minutes, including just one of seven (.143) from beyond the three-point arc.
The Bulldogs will take a couple of days off for the holidays, before returning to prepare for their final non-conference test against New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Butler will host that game in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, Dec. 28, at 1 p.m.