Last night, the Butler men’s basketball team did what it had not done since 2006—lose a game by 15 or more points.
Louisville’s full-court pressure and solid shooting from the field led to the first loss of the season for the No. 18 Bulldogs (1-1).
The dunks, defense and the deep bench of the Cardinals (1-0) broke down the Bulldogs in an 88-73 christening of the newly-built KFC Yum! Center, which housed nearly 23,000 fans for the night.
“I can’t imagine with depth like that and players like that that they would get any worse down the road,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “I would say that all the Big East predictions were wrong.”
Butler pulled within reach and gave Louisville fans a scare in the second half, but the Bulldogs could never get closer than 11 once their slow-developing surge began.
“We knew at halftime that [Butler] would make some sort of run,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. “They’re too good of a team not to.”
But the 24-point hole that Butler dug in the first half was too much to overcome in the end.
“We got caught up, for whatever reason, in the atmosphere,” Stevens said. “Invitations to the first game in a new stadium are usually ones you say ‘no’ to.”
Pitino said that one of the three battles the Cardinals wanted to win was three-point shooting, or at least defend Butler’s three-point shooting well.
“We prepared our tails off because of how much we respect Butler, and we played defense well,” Pitino said.
The Cardinals’ preparation held Butler to six-of-25 in three-point shooting for the game.
Louisville’s defense also held Butler to 23 percent field goal shooting in the first half, while the Cardinals built a sizable lead, shooting 44 percent.
Butler junior Shelvin Mack led all scorers with 25 points, 17 of which came in the first half. His ability to create his own shots kept Butler from falling into a double-digit hole multiple times early in the game, although the turnovers and slow defensive rotations of his teammates could not prevent the inevitable.
Louisville sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles led his team with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while junior forward Terrence Jennings added 13 points and eight rebounds.
Louisville led 41-23 at the break, but Butler looked to come out of locker room and make the game competitive in the second half.
“The biggest thing to take away from this game is how we got better from the first half to the second half,” Stevens said.
Senior forward Matt Howard had to step up for Butler when some minor injuries kept Mack on the bench for most of the second half. Howard scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half.
Even with Howard taking charge in the second, the Bulldogs’ struggles early on gave the Cardinals enough of a cushion to emerge with a win.
Stevens, who picked up his second career technical foul minutes into the game, said that Butler did not set the world on fire last November and that there was still much work to be done. “If we hang our heads, we’re not going to get better,” Stevens said. “And if we get mad, we’re not going to get better.
The Bulldogs will look to bounce back Saturday when they play a different flock of Cardinals—those from Ball State. The game in Hinkle Fieldhouse starts at 2 p.m.