No. 16 Butler Cruises Past Bradley, 83-64
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Butler changed the game plan Wednesday night.
With its usually proficient 3-point shooters struggling, the 16th-ranked Bulldogs resorted to Plan B: strong post play, backdoor cuts and an array of layups to get the offense in sync.
Eventually, the long-range shooters finally caught up to their teammates.
A.J. Graves scored 21 points and fellow guard Mike Green added 17 points and nine rebounds for the new-look Bulldogs, who used a late 3-point flurry to finally put away Bradley 83-64.
"It's definitely important to have that inside presence any time we're struggling from outside," Green said. "But it was one of those games."
It wasn't supposed to be.
Most expected the game to be a shooting exhibition between two of the nation's premiere teams from beyond the arc. Bradley (7-4) and Butler (10-1) were both averaging about 10 3s per game.
But with both teams intent on defending the 3-point line like it was Fort Knox, it became a plodding, deliberate chess match.
So the Bulldogs did what they had to. They got the ball inside to Matt Howard, their freshman forward who almost single-handedly kept them close early, and then relied on the athleticism of backup swingman Willie Veasley to open things up on the baseline.
The combination helped Butler break out of its shooting doldrums late in the first half, and later opened things up outside for Graves.
"We needed an inside presence and Matt and Willie provided that tonight," said Graves, who was 4-of-10 on 3s. "They were strong with the ball and that opens up things for me and Mike, and I thought we did a fairly decent job with that tonight."
Bradley coach Jim Les criticized the Braves' intensity and the sluggish start that prevented them from taking advantage of Butler's uncharacteristic mistakes.
They did challenge the Bulldogs with two big runs in the second half, but it wasn't nearly enough to satisfy Les nor enough to pull off their first road win against a ranked nonconference opponent since 1958.
Daniel Ruffin, who was in foul trouble for the final 23 minutes, and backup Tyrone Cole-Scott both had 11 points for Bradley.
"We were not ready to play tonight, and that's on me," Les said. "I thought they were quicker to the ball and our concentration wasn't good on individuals or sets. It was sporadic at best, and that will be addressed."
The more glaring problem was poor shooting.
Bradley came into the game on a 19-game streak of hitting at least five 3s, and a 232-game streak of making at least one. But the Braves missed their first 11 shots from behind the arc, needed more than 26 minutes to make just one and finished 3-of-19 while shooting 38.9 percent overall from the field.
It was a dismal performance in a venue that has traditionally befuddled Bradley. The Braves have lost eight straight at Hinkle Fieldhouse since 1962.
"You can't get behind like we did in the first half against this team because you're fighting an uphill battle," Les said.
Howard had 14 points and six rebounds.
By running the baseline and making athletic moves to get to the rim, Veasley scored six points in the final 4:33 -- more than his total in any game this season -- to spark a closing 17-2 run that gave Butler a 34-19 halftime lead.
"He was great tonight," Butler coach Brad Stevens said of Veasley, who finished with 12 points. "I thought he had a great summer and you could see that in the fall, but the knee injury kind of stalled that. So to see that tonight was encouraging."
Butler appeared headed toward a rout when it extended the lead to 46-24 early in the second half.
Bradley used a 9-1 run to close to 47-33, and after Graves made two 3s, Bradley scored 12 straight points to get within 59-53 with 7:22 left. The last two points came on free throws when Stevens drew the first technical foul of his career.
That's as close as the Braves got.
Butler reverted to its customary outside shots and deliberate style in the closing minutes, getting consecutive 3s from Graves and Julian Betko in a 12-2 spurt which sealed the victory.
"We've been drilling things in practice and just trying to get back to doing what we do best," Green said. "But when we're struggling we need those inside guys to step up, and they did that tonight."