Sophomore Matt Howard and freshman Shelvin Mack each posted a career scoring high and Butler held off a late Youngstown State rally to down the Penguins, 79-71, in a Horizon League game at the Beeghly Center in Youngstown, Ohio, on Saturday (Dec. 6). It was Butler's seventh straight win to open the season and the second in two league tilts.
Howard led the Bulldogs with 23 points, including 15 in the second half. His total matched his previous career-high, set against Ohio State last year. The 6-8 forward hit a career-best 13 of 15 free throw attempts in the game. He also led the Bulldogs in rebounding with nine.
Mack chipped in with a career-high 22 points. He helped the Bulldogs to a strong start in the first half with 16 points, including four three-point field goals. The 6-3 guard also finished with a team-high five assists.
The Bulldogs, behind Mack's scoring and a solid defensive effort, built an 11-point halftime lead, 39-28. That margin became a 19-point lead when the Bulldogs out-scored Youngstown State (1-6, 0-2 HL), 13-5, in the first five minutes of the second half.
But the Bulldogs' lead fell victim to the hot hand of guard Kelvin Bright in the final nine minutes of the contest. Bright scored 14 of his game-high 27 points down the stretch and helped the Penguins trim Butler's margin to four points, 70-66, with 3:02 remaining.
The Bulldogs responded that flurry with five unanswered points, a lay-up by freshman Ronald Nored and three straight free throws by Howard, to regain control and the Penguins never got closer than six points in the final two minutes.
"It was tough. We played well in stretches, but we couldn't put them away," said Butler coach Brad Stevens after the game. "I do like our team's ability to get a basket when we needed one."
Butler pulled away from a 21-20 advantage 13 minutes into the first half on a 10-0 scoring run that was sparked by Mack. The first-year Butler player hit a pair of three-point field goals and added a lay-up during the run, while junior Avery Jukes chipped in with a short jumper. Mack finished the first half with six of eight shooting from the field, including four of eight from beyond the three-point arc. The four three-pointers tied his previous career-high, set earlier this season against IU-South Bend.
Howard and Hayward keyed Butler's early second half flurry with five points apiece, while sophomore Shawn Vanzant added a three-point field goal.
Bright scored 17 of his points after intermission. He wound up hitting nine of 16 shots for the game, including five of nine from three-point range. Sirlester Martin chipped in with 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds. The Penguins hit all 17 free throws that they attempted in the game.
Sophomore Zach Hahn came off the bench with nine points for the Bulldogs, while Hayward added seven. Butler hit a season-best 20 of 25 shots from the charity stripe.
The Bulldogs will return to non-league play on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at Bradley, before visiting Big Ten foe Ohio State on Saturday, Dec. 13.