Bulldogs Claim Sixth Straight
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Butler's Matt Howard was looking for redemption Saturday.
After getting into foul trouble in both halves, missing three free throws and giving up an inexplicable late tip-in, Howard delivered when it mattered most.
The sophomore forward scored 11 of his game-high 15 points in the second half, grabbed the biggest rebound of the game with 0.8 seconds to go and sank two free throws to help the 21st-ranked Bulldogs hold off Detroit 54-50.
"It was a big play, I guess," Howard said matter-of-factly. "I just switched and was guarding a guy in the corner, so I knew if he drove it in, I had to go get the rebound, especially after what happened on that tip-in."
Or after what happened in the previous 39 minutes, 59 seconds.
For the young Bulldogs, it was perhaps their biggest test of the season.
They had beaten Horizon League rival Wright State two days earlier, prompting coach Brad Stevens to worry about the quickest turnaround between games Butler (14-1, 5-0) had all season. Plus, Butler faced an opponent that hadn't won a conference road game in nearly two years, hadn't beaten a ranked opponent on the road in nearly three decades and lost by 23 at Valparaiso on Thursday.
It was a dangerous mix.
Butler's usual strategy of coupling 3-pointers with a deliberate, careful offense never worked properly. The Bulldogs finished with only two 3-pointers, their lowest total in 71 games, missed a handful of layups and occasionally threw passes right past cutting teammates.
Eventually, the veterans, like Howard, took control. Junior Willie Veasley had nine points, junior Avery Jukes finished with eight and Howard provided the assist to give Butler a two-point lead and the rebound that ended Detroit's upset bid.
"Some nights things go your way, other nights, they don't and you've got to find a way to win. That's what we did tonight," Stevens said. "I thought the biggest play of the game was the last defensive possession because you know you can't give up a 3 and Matt came up with one of the few defensive rebounds we had late."
How unusual was it?
Butler's six-game winning streak allowed it to match the best start in school history, while Detroit (4-11, 0-6) is still struggling for first-year coach Ray McCallum. The Titans have lost four straight, 18 in a row on the road against conference foes and played again without Xavier Keeling (foot injury) and Chris Hayes, who missed his second straight game after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.
Most figured the disparity would produce a blowout.
Detroit had other ideas, making McCallum's second appearance in three days in his home state much more palatable. Three Titans - Thomas Kennedy, Eulis Stephens and Eugene Blue - each finished with eight points.
"I'd like to say how proud I am of this team, to come into a difficult environment with a tremendous crowd," McCallum said. "Our guys embraced it and played up to the level of the competition. Our guys really raised their level of play today."
It was nearly good enough.
Butler started 4-of-6 from the field, then made only 4-of-18 the rest of the first half.
It was the opening Detroit needed. The Titans used a 12-2 run to take a 22-15 lead and extended it to 26-18 late in the first half.
But Butler scored the final four points and carried the momentum into the second half.
Howard's dunk with 18:30 to go tied it at 26, and Gordon Hayward gave Butler the lead after making 1-of-2 free throws after the Detroit bench drew a technical foul.
Finally, the Bulldogs made one of their patented runs.
Leading 39-38, Zach Hahn hit a 3-pointer, Jukes knocked down a 15-foot baseline jumper and Veasley stripped the ball under the basket and drove coast-to-coast to make it 46-40 with 6:42 left.
Detroit answered with four straight free throws, then retook the lead at 50-49 as Jason Bennett broke free for a tip-in with 2:31 left.
Butler tied it on a free throw, then regained the lead when Howard found Hayward for the go-ahead jumper with 1:40 left.
The Titans could have tied it, or won it, in the final seconds, but Tryl Hartfield drove in for a 3-foot runner that hit the front of the rim. Howard grabbed the rebound and made the free throws to seal it.
"It was a tough fought game, and you knew it was going to come down to the final few seconds," Howard said. "We were fortunate, really fortunate, to win this game."