Butler’s best player was a non-factor for 36 minutes. Their most experienced and most physical presence watched the game from the sideline. Yet despite not having a lead in the final 21 minutes of the game, the Bulldogs had the ball with three seconds to play and a chance to tie or add another improbable last second win to their already impressive collection of those this season.
Didn’t happen this time around.
After Rotnei Clarke drained four threes plus converted three free throws when fouled on another attempt, the ball never reached his hands in that fateful possession. The in-bounds pass went to Khyle Marshall, and then quickly was taken away by the 49ers. They’d finally make both free throws after an immediate foul to put away the Bulldogs, handing them their first loss at Hinkle of the season 71-67.
After going 3-1 in Rotnei Clarke’s absence in January, and not missing a beat when Roosevelt Jones missed the second half last Wednesday against St. Bonaventure, the Bulldogs finally couldn’t overcome the loss of a key player. Against a rugged Charlotte squad, the lack of Andrew Smith made all the difference.
Charlotte entered the game making just 27 percent from three-point range on the year, and on Wednesday attempted just five shots from distance, making two. Everything was at the basket for the 49ers.
Charlotte made 26 field goals on the night. Six of them were from outside the paint. They’d shoot 54 percent for the game. That’s 13 percent higher than Butler usually allows.
Erik Fromm made the most of his first start of the season, scoring a season-high 13 points and grabbing nine boards. He was Butler’s best three-point threat for most of the game, connecting on three of six attempts. In addition to Fromm having to start in Smith’s absence, Brad Stevens made the decision to insert Kellen Dunham back in the lineup in place of a struggling Alex Barlow. Dunham would add 12 points.
However, that left Butler’s bench a couple of weapons short, and the Bulldogs got zero points in 51 bench minutes played. That was a first for the year, and only the fourth time the bench output hadn’t hit double digits.
There’s no need to panic for the Butler faithful. Losses in February can send fan bases scrambling for an explanation, and worried that they’re team is slipping heading into postseason play. The explanation is quite simple here. If Andrew Smith is healthy and plays Wednesday night, Butler wins that game. The good news for Bulldog fans is that the injury doesn’t appear to be a long-term problem. He could play as early as Tuesday’s game against Duquesne.
The next two games are against teams with a combined two league wins. As long as Smith can play and be close to full speed for Butler’s rematch with Saint Louis next Friday night at Hinkle, the Bulldogs should be fine.
The question that lingers from last night will be the impact in the rankings, and more importantly, seeding come NCAA tournament time. Charlotte came into the game just outside the top 60 in the RPI. It’s the second loss that Butler can point to (@ LaSalle) that was due to a key piece missing the game. And since those key pieces will be playing in March, are those losses written off by the selection committee?
That’s the hope of Butler fans after last night’s loss.
HOOSIERS SLEEPWALK THEN ROLL
It took about 10 minutes of game time for the Hoosiers to stop hitting the snooze button. That left 30 minutes to decimate the Huskers.
Despite shooting 6-19 from the floor in the opening half, Indiana had little trouble dispatching Nebraska 76-47. Indiana dominated in every statistical category, winning the board battle by 12, committing six fewer turnovers, and getting to the line 18 more times, owning a plus-15 margin in free throws made.
In other words, the #1 team in the country did what they were supposed to do against the 11th-placed team in the Big Ten.
No single player had a dominant night offensively, with Cody Zeller leading the way with 16 points. He did that without making a basket until 9:49 was left in the game. The stat of the night for Indiana was Christian Watford snagging 11 rebounds. He’d finish with a double-double, scoring 13 points. He’d also make all six free throws he attempted.
Expect more of the same when Purdue rolls into Assembly Hall on Saturday.
PURDUE OFFERS LITTLE RESISTANCE TO ILLINOIS
The Boilers scored the first four points. Illinois scored the next eight, and would never trail again. It was the second straight game where the Boilermakers never sniffed the lead in the second half. After Purdue found a way to beat the Illini in their first matchup to start Big Ten play on January 2nd, the two teams couldn’t have looked any different last night.
To struggle is one thing, that is expected for such a young team. What’s scary is that Boilermaker fans aren’t seeing any improvement from said young team. The Boilers haven’t recovered from losing to Indiana by a record-setting margin 15 days ago. Only a date with the worst Big Ten team in years in Penn State has saved Purdue from a five-game losing streak started by a 37-point defeat.
In Purdue’s losses since then, the average margin of defeat is 16 points. And there’s no reason to think it’s going to get any better on Saturday.
NOTRE DAME NEEDS EXTRA TIME AGAIN
Notre Dame sure does love playing free basketball. They played their sixth extra session in four days, this time needing just one OT to down DePaul 82-78. The Blue Demons own just one Big East win, but have taken the Irish to overtime twice in 11 days.
Jerian Grant may not have had the blitzkrieg he had on Saturday against Louisville, but he still led the Irish with 21 points, including a crucial putback three-point play in overtime. Jack Cooley added a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Two stats jump off the page from last night’s win. A game after four players fouled out for the Irish, they committed 10 fouls in 45 minutes against DePaul. But don’t take that for a lack of physicality. They outrebounded the Blue Demons 44-25.