It wasn’t quite the sweet revenge that the Butler men’s basketball team was looking for in what was a rematch of last year’s national title game against Duke.
The Bulldogs (4-3) fell to the No. 1 Blue Devils (8-0), 82-70, Saturday in the headlining game of the Carquest Auto Parts Classic at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
Though the game was billed as a rematch, these weren’t the same teams that played last April. Fresh faces on both rosters, including Duke freshman Kyrie Irving, who put up 21 points for the Blue Devils, meant a fresh game plan too.
“We wanted to make clear from the get-go that it was a different team,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “They’re playing differently. They’re better in a lot of areas, so it really changed the way we tried to prepare for them.”
It seemed to work at first. Butler surprised the Blue Devils early and was first on the board after an opening 3-point shot by senior Matt Howard. A free throw from freshman Khyle Marshall put the Bulldogs up, 10-5, five minutes into the game.
“We felt like we had a system that was going to be different defensively than what Duke had seen so far this year,” Howard said. “For the most part it was and I think it gave them problems.”
The first half remained close throughout, and neither team was able to get a foothold. Butler’s five-point lead was the largest of a half that had six lead changes.
With six seconds on the clock, senior Zach Hahn hit a 3-pointer to give Butler the lead, but Blue Devil senior guard Nolan Smith responded after a quick time-out when he dunked the ball and tied the game at 33 going into the break.
“They were missing some shots and we were able to take advantage of that, but maybe not enough,” Howard said. “We should have been able to go into the half with a lead. Maybe that play at the end gave them a little momentum.”
The battle for the lead continued through the first seven minutes of the second half with five more lead changes. Again, neither team could pull ahead by more than a basket until the Bulldogs’ foul trouble began to catch up with them.
In the eighth minute, a Hahn foul put the ball in the hands of Duke senior Kyle Singler. Foul trouble held Singler to just 13 points, but he started the run that gave Duke a 10-point lead.
“We knew they were going to make runs,” Howard said. “But they made more extended runs than we did and that may have been the difference in the game.”
Senior guard Shawn Vanzant answered with a run of his own, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the next minute. His efforts pulled Butler within three, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the offensive efforts of Irving and Smith, who combined for 45 Duke points.
“Foul trouble played a role for us and we had a unique mix of lineups in there, but at the end of the day their players made plays when it mattered the most,” Stevens said.
Through the course of the game Butler committed 24 fouls. Howard and Hahn fouled out while junior guard Ronald Nored finished with four.
The Bulldogs also missed junior guard Shelvin Mack who played only 21 minutes before leg cramps limited him.
Combined with 50 percent free throw shooting and 15 turnovers, the obstacles were too great for the Bulldogs to overcome.
“There were a couple of turnovers that led to easy baskets and got them going,” Vanzant said. “When you’re playing against a team like that, you can’t turn the ball over.”
The Bulldogs will play their fifth road game of the season at Xavier’s Cintas Center tomorrow at 9 p.m.