February 16, 2008

Bulldogs Avenge January Loss to Vikings, Win 51-46

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - When Butler's shooting failed, the Bulldogs made up for it with one of their best defensive efforts of the season.

Butler held Cleveland State to 31 percent shooting in a 51-46 win on Saturday. It was the lowest field-goal percentage Butler has allowed all season, and the fewest points the ninth-ranked Bulldogs have given up in more than two months.

"We got stops," Butler guard Mike Green said. "We got stops when we needed them. Cleveland State can score with the best of them."

Two days after scoring a season-high 89 points against Youngstown State, Butler shot 41 percent from the field and made just 11 of 20 free throws to win their eighth straight.

Matt Howard scored 17 points and A.J. Graves added 15 for the Bulldogs (24-2, 13-2 Horizon League), who avenged a 56-52 loss to the Vikings on Jan. 17, their last defeat.

Cedric Jackson scored 20 points and J'Nathan Bullock added 11 for Cleveland State (17-11, 10-6), which had won three in a row.

Cleveland State shot 50 percent or better in its previous two games, wins over Wisconsin-Green Bay and Valparaiso, but couldn't get going against Butler.

The Bulldogs needed to defend well because they shot 31 percent in the second half. Green, Butler's leading scorer, was scoreless in the second half and finished with six points.

"I think the defense on both sides was just outstanding," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "I was really proud of the way our team dug in there to get this win."

A 10-3 run by Cleveland State early in the second half cut into the Bulldogs' eight-point halftime lead. A three-point play by Jackson trimmed Butler's lead to 38-36, and minutes later, a layup by Bullock tied the game at 40.

Julian Betko and Pete Campbell hit 3-pointers to help the Bulldogs take a 48-42 lead with 9 minutes left. Neither team scored again until Cleveland State's George Tandy made two free throws with 3:24 to play. The Vikings never got closer.

"We didn't execute," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. "We turned the ball over two or three times in that situation. We had them on their heels in transition, we just didn't capitalize. That's something I've got to go back to the drawing board and evaluate. We had our opportunities."

Cleveland State never got the lead in the second half. Stevens said Betko's shot that put Butler up 43-40 was important, as was a bucket on the baseline by a cutting Matt Streicher with one second left on the shot clock that made it 45-40.

Stevens said players like Betko and Streicher have contributed all season, even though they haven't put up big numbers.

"Those guys don't get enough written about them," Stevens said. "They certainly are big parts of this."

Bullock had averaged 26.3 points in Cleveland State's previous three games, but the Bulldogs held him to 5-for-15 shooting. Stevens said Streicher played "unbelievable" defense on Bullock.

Howard scored 14 points to help Butler take a 33-25 halftime lead. Butler shot 53 percent in the first half while Cleveland State shot 32 percent.

"They were trapping on our ball screens and pushing us out on the floor," Stevens said. "They gave us fits out there. We ran a couple of things through Matt, and fortunately, they worked out."

Waters said his team played with enough intensity to give itself a chance, but didn't make plays.

"I felt that each team had an opportunity to put it away," Waters said. "I thought both teams played hard. I thought either team could have won that game."