MATTHEW VANTRYON | STAFF REPORTER
The Butler men’s basketball team faced its biggest test of the young season on Saturday night against Princeton and came away with a 70-67 win at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Sophomore guard Kellen Dunham had a career night for the Bulldogs (2-0), lighting up the scoreboard with a career-high 26 points. He grabbed eight rebounds and shot 8-for-11 from the free throw line.
Every one of those free throws proved critical, and Dunham said that he took advantage of the Tigers’ (1-1) aggressiveness.
“I hit a few shots early, and I think they were a little bit jumpy throughout the game, so I was able to sneak by my guy a few times and draw fouls,” Dunham said.
Both teams experienced foul trouble. Butler was called for 27 fouls, and 48 were called in total.
The Bulldogs hit 73 percent of their free throws (19-26) while Princeton hit 62 percent (23-37).
Coach Brandon Miller said the foul calls were due to Princeton’s style of play.
“There were a lot of fouls called on both ends,” Miller said. “Part of that was that Princeton put a lot of pressure on our defense. They tried to drive the ball, they tried to post the ball.”
The two teams went back and forth in the opening half, as both teams hit shots from deep with consistency. Butler hit six of 11 three-point attempts in the first half.
While Princeton struggled from the field, nine free throws allowed them to stay close.
Dunham hit a floater at the end of the half to give the Bulldogs a 33-31 lead going into the locker room.
The Bulldogs began the second half with an offensive explosion, widening their lead to 13 within in the first five minutes of the half. However, Butler’s lead was not safe as the Tigers cut the deficit to as little as two points in the second half.
Miller said that he warned his team that Princeton would not go quietly.
“At halftime, we talked about if we were able to get up at any point in time, especially early on, that they were going to come back,” Miller said. “They were going to keep fighting throughout the game, and we had to keep playing possession by possession.”
Paving the way for the Tigers’ comeback was junior forward Denton Koon.
Despite a quiet six points in the opening half, Koon had a team-high 21 by the end of the night. A Koon layup with just under two minutes remaining pulled Princeton to within four. He found himself at the free throw line with under a minute to go, and sunk both free throws to cut the Butler lead to two.
Butler called a timeout and inbounded the ball with a chance to make it a two-possession game. A turnover gave the Tigers a chance to come away with a victory.
Koon had one last chance, backing down sophomore guard Devontae Morgan and attempting a layup. The ball bounced off the rim and Dunham secured the rebound. After being fouled, Dunham hit one of two free throws to put the game away.
Miller said the team’s defensive effort is to credit for the win, especially for the defensive stops late in the game.
“It takes a certain group of guys, when you need to get a stop, to get a stop,” Miller said.
The Bulldogs close out their season-opening three-game home stand by facing Vanderbilt Tuesday. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse.