February 14, 2008

No. 9 Butler Wins Seventh Straight

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Beware, Butler opponents: The old A.J. Graves might be back.

Graves scored 15 points in 26 minutes as the No. 9 Bulldogs beat Youngstown State 89-73 Thursday night.

Graves had shot a combined 6-for-25 in wins against Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He went 6-for-9 against Youngstown State, including 3-for-5 on 3-pointers. He left the game with 11:26 to go and Butler leading 68-45.

The Horizon League's preseason Player of the Year, Graves hadn't shot better than 50 percent in a game since the Bulldogs beat Texas Tech on Nov. 24. Butler point guard Mike Green, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points, said it was a matter of time before the senior guard got loose.

"A.J.'s a shooter," he said. "It's only so long he's going to be in a slump. It's not just A.J., it's any shooter. When they come out, they come out hitting. I don't see him having too many more slumps."

Butler coach Brad Stevens even cracked a smile when asked about Graves' shooting, saying he looked comfortable. Graves took little credit for it, instead saying the Bulldogs set him up by sharing the ball. Butler had 20 assists on 33 baskets.

"That's something that we try to take pride in, sharing the ball," he said. "That's what makes us get open looks, and I think that's what makes our percentage go up. We've just got to move the ball and stay with our motion offense."

Matt Howard added 12 points for Butler (12-2 Horizon League), which is a school-best 23-2 for the second consecutive season.

Butler set season highs for points and field goal percentage (.623). The Bulldogs made 13 of 20 3-pointers in their seventh straight win.

Youngstown State coach Jerry Slocum said his team failed to execute its gameplan.

"We came out thinking we needed to control Green off the drive and pressure the shooters," he said. "Obviously, we did neither at all tonight."

Slocum said the Bulldogs can compete with UCLA and Notre Dame, two ranked teams that beat Youngstown earlier in the season, because of the way they spread out opponents' defenses with multiple outside shooters.

"When they make those shots, they're going to beat anybody," he said. "They're competitive with anybody because of their style of play. When they don't knock down shots, everybody's going to be competitive with them."

It was Butler's first home game since a 3-0 road trip. The Bulldogs will play four of their final five regular-season games at home.

Byron Davis led Youngstown State with 20 points and Vance Cooksey added 15 for the Penguins (8-17, 4-11), who have lost eight of nine.

Youngstown State shot 58 percent, and Stevens made his feelings about it known after the game.

"Very disappointing," Green said. "I guess that happens when you're scoring like that. Points are coming so easy that you give up points on the other end. Coach was pretty mad about it.

"He talked to us about it, and we all know we've got to get better. We're going to drill it, definitely."

Butler shot 69 percent from the field to lead 50-34 at halftime, the most points the Bulldogs have scored in a half this season. Youngstown State shot 59 percent before the break, but couldn't overcome Butler's eight 3-pointers.

Butler's outside shooting opened up the post, and Howard scored his team's first three baskets of the second half from in close as the Bulldogs took a 56-36 lead. The game never was close after that.

The Bulldogs led 23-21 in the first half before a going on a 7-0 flurry, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Julian Betko, to take a 30-21 lead. Minutes later, Green stole the ball, drove and executed a 360-degree spin and layup to make it 39-27.

Butler shot better from the 3-point line (65 percent) than from the free-throw line (62 percent).

"If our 3-point shooting is going to be better than our free throw shooting, it's going to be a pretty good night," Stevens said.