INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Butler's two-game lull seems a distant memory.
Matt Howard had 25 points and 10 rebounds and the 24th-ranked Bulldogs beat Youngstown State 78-57 on Thursday night, clinching at least a share of their third straight Horizon League regular-season championship.
"I was very pleased with the way we played. We defended, we moved the basketball, we played the way I was hoping we'd play on the last week of the regular season," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
Losses to Loyola of Chicago and Wisconsin-Milwaukee two weeks ago were the first consecutive defeats for the Bulldogs in their past 111 games. They came back last week with a win at Davidson in the ESPN BracketBuster and their return to top form appeared complete in the thorough whipping of Youngstown State.
Butler shot 55 percent and outrebounded the Penguins 40-25.
The win also guaranteed the Bulldogs (24-4, 14-3) a bye into the conference tournament's semifinals next week, either at home as the top seed or at Wisconsin-Green Bay as the No. 2 seed, depending on their final regular-season games Saturday. Green Bay remained a game behind Butler with a 78-62 win at Detroit on Thursday.
"You want to put yourself in a position to play on the last week of the season for the conference championship," Stevens said. "But right now, I don't think anybody is paying much attention to what's been done. ... If we focus on anything but that first possession of that game (against Cleveland State on Saturday), we're doing ourselves a disservice."
Freshman Gordon Hayward added 14 points for Butler, which led by 10 points at halftime and went on to lead by as many as 24 points.
Sirlester Martin hit his first seven shots and finished with 15 points to lead Youngstown State (11-17, 7-10), which can finish no higher than sixth in the conference but could still play a first-round game at home on March 3.
The 6-foot-8 Howard hit 10 of 16 shots, all from under the basket against smaller defenders.
"I was just trying to get spots, and the guards got me the ball in position to score," Howard said. "There were a lot of easy layups tonight."
Butler never trailed, taking the ball inside repeatedly to Howard. A 3-pointer by Willie Veasley, a fastbreak layup by Howard and two free throws by Howard on the next possession gave the Bulldogs an 11-3 lead. Four early turnovers by Butler, however, let the Penguins stay close for a time.
Kelvin Bright was fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit all three free throws to pull Youngstown within 29-23 late in the first half. Still leading by just six a minute later, Butler pulled away with a basket by Garrett Butcher and a fastbreak layup and free throw by Hayward to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead so far, 36-25.
Butler led 38-28 at halftime then put the game away with an 18-5 run.
Two free throws by Howard and consecutive baskets by Veasley, Butcher and Shelvin Mack gave the Bulldogs a 64-42 lead with 7:30 remaining, and the Penguins came no closer than 19 points the rest of the way. The biggest lead was 76-52 with under 2 minutes to go.
"Matt's been a priority to get the ball to the entire season," Stevens said. "If they guard the perimeter, then Matt's 1-on-1 down there, and if they double him, we've got guys who can make plays."
Veasley added 12 points for Butler.
Vytas Sulskis had 12 points for the Penguins, 10 in the first half.
The Penguins shot just 36 percent.
"I was very disappointed with the way we shot," Youngstown coach
Jerry Slocum said. "We had a lot of open looks we didn't knock
down. Against a team like this, if you're not going to make your
open ones, you're in trouble, and it ended up catching up with us."