Indianapolis, Ind. - Lade Akande and Susan Lester combined for 34 points and 23 rebounds and the host Bulldogs rallied for a one-point lead with less than a minute to play, but Cleveland State converted seven of eight free throws in the final seconds to hold on for a 65-61 decision at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday (Jan. 31) evening.
The two squads battled until the bitter end in a contest that saw 10 ties and 12 lead changes, including 11 in the second period, before the Vikings took advantage of three Butler fouls in the final minute.
The loss sends the Bulldogs to 13-6 on the year and 3-5 in Horizon League play, while the Vikings improve to 12-7 overall and 6-2 in conference.
The game looked to have the makings of a rout, as the Bulldogs quickly found their shooting touch early in the first half in building up as much as an 11-point margin with under seven minutes to go in the period.
Back-to-back treys by Lester and Brittany Bowen broke a 4-4 tie before lay-ups by Azjah Bass and Akande pushed the Bulldogs ahead by eight at 14-6. A triple by Cassie Freeman, another by Lester and an old-fashioned three-point play by Bowen over the next four minutes helped to power Butler ahead to its largest lead of the night at 27-16 with 6:29 to go.
The Vikings would come storming back, however, riding a 10-0 surge to bring the game even at 29-29 with 1:13 left. A pair of makes from the line by Lester put Butler back in front with only seconds remaining, but Brittany Korth banked a lay-up off a steal as time expired to send the two squads into the locker room tied at 31.
The Bulldogs would be the ones finding themselves playing catch-up in the second half, as Cleveland State rode some clutch shooting from the charity stripe to a 52-47 edge midway through the period.
An ensuing 7-0 run put the Bulldogs ahead by two, but the advantage would be short-lived - like many of the leads in the second half - as the Vikings continued to respond to every Butler offensive charge before taking a 58-56 margin with just over two minutes left.
After Lester split a pair from the line to cut the deficit to one, Akande came through with a pair of tosses to give Butler at 59-58 lead with 57 seconds on the clock.
A personal foul and a costly technical whistle on the Bulldogs on the very next possession, however, sent the Vikings to the line for four shots - all of which were converted - before three more CSU makes from the stripe all but sealed the Bulldogs' fate.
Butler shot 43.5 percent (20-for-46) from the field, including an 11-of-22 mark in the first half, and netted 17-of-23 attempts from the line. CSU, meanwhile, finished with a 46.5 percent clip from the field and a 21-for-28 free throw mark.
The Bulldogs held a 33 to 23 edge on rebounds, including a 13 to eight margin on the offensive glass, to out-score the Vikings 16-2 on second chance points.
Akande led the Bulldogs with 21 points and 12 rebounds for her second double-double of the season, while Lester chipped in 13 points and 11 boards for her team-leading fifth. Bowen added a perfect slate on offense, going 4-for-4 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line for 12 points, while Bass added eight.
Klein led all scorers with 24 points thanks to 5-of-10 shooting from the field and a 14-for-18 mark from the free throw line.
Butler returns to Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday (Feb. 2) when it hosts Youngstown State beginning at 2:00 p.m.