A pair of double-doubles from senior Matt Howard and freshman Khyle Marshall was not enough as Butler fell in overtime to conference rival Milwaukee, 86-83, Sunday at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Panthers (10-11, 5-5) relied on veteran leadership to overcome a six-point deficit late in the game, as senior Tone Boyle hit a pair of free throws with 25 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Boyle then hit a key 3-pointer in the extra session to seal the win for the Panthers.
The Bulldogs (14-7, 6-3) had a chance to win with the last possession of regulation. After a timeout, head coach Brad Stevens called a ball screen at the top of the key for junior Shelvin Mack, but Mack’s shot was off the mark.
“Milwaukee did a nice job jumping to the ball,” Stevens said. “They took his sight away and he didn’t get a great look.”
Mack led all scorers with 23 points, while Howard, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday, added 18 points and 10 rebounds. Marshall played 34 minutes off the bench, scoring 14 points and pulling down a career-high 10 rebounds.
The loss snapped Butler’s streak of 15 straight home wins over conference opponents and marked the first time the Bulldogs have been swept by a league opponent since the 2004-05 season.
Milwaukee defeated Butler earlier this month, 76-52.
“What crushed us last time we played them was the 3-point line,” Stevens said. “I thought we did a great job guarding the 3-point line.
“If you would have told me that we out-rebounded them 41-36 and held them to five threes, I would have said we would have won.”
Senior Anthony Hill, battling foul trouble, led the Panthers with 18 points in 19 minutes. Junior Kaylon Williams, who had a triple-double in the first meeting, finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
Howard, one of Butler’s team leaders, recognized the influence Williams had on his Panther teammates.
“They really feed off of Williams,” Howard said. “Out on the floor, you can see him really leading them and urging them to play hard.”
With Valparaiso losing to Green Bay on Sunday, a win would have given Butler a share of the league lead. Instead, the Bulldogs remain a game behind Valparaiso and Cleveland State in the standings.
During the postgame press conference, Stevens and Howard showed obvious signs of disappointment, but Stevens said he is confident that his squad can regain its footing and finish strong in league play.
“You can’t sit and stew about it,” Stevens said. “You have to be in charge of your own happiness and contentment.
“Milwaukee is a good team, but they are a great team versus Butler. We’re going to get everyone’s best shot and we have to prepare for that.”
Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter, even after beating the Bulldogs twice this season, made a point to acknowledge that Butler is a tough team to compete against.
“I still see a lot of the things I saw from Butler last year,” Jeter said. “They still play with that same Butler pride.
“They are a very good team and are still very capable of winning the conference.”
Despite a lackluster end, the weekend was not a complete disappointment for the Bulldogs.
On Friday, Butler picked up an 81-75 conference win over the Phoenix of Green Bay.
Howard scored 29 points and hauled in a career-high 16 rebounds to help Butler hold off a late second half comeback by the Phoenix.
The Bulldogs got out to a 4-2 lead, only to see Green Bay (10-10, 4-4) string together a 20-9 run and take a commanding lead.
Three-point specialist senior Zach Hahn turned the tables midway through the first half when he connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Thirty seconds later, another long ball from Hahn found the bottom of the net and cut Green Bay’s lead to just three.
Around the five-minute mark, Mack converted a steal into a breakaway layup, giving the Bulldogs the lead and causing the Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd to rise to its collective feet. Butler would never trail again.
Midway through the second half, a pair of former high school teammates hooked up to give the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game when Hahn found sophomore Chase Stigall open for three.
However, the Phoenix refused to go down without a fight. Senior guard Rahmon Fletcher, who was held without a field goal in the first half, scored 17 second half points to lead Green Bay back to within three.
With just 41 seconds to play, an arrant pass off a Butler inbound resulted in Fletcher getting a clean look to tie the game. His shot rimmed out; Howard secured the rebound and the Bulldogs sealed the victory at the free throw line.
While the Phoenix showed true grit in fighting back, the story of the game was Howard, who played a team-high 34 minutes and pulled down eight offensive rebounds.
Noted for his inside game, fans and opponents were not accustomed to Howard shooting the long ball last season.However, heading into the game, he was leading the Horizon League in 3-point percentages. Howard commented on his role on this year’s Bulldog squad.
“From a mentality standpoint, I don’t feel like I’m playing a whole lot different,” Howard said. “I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to make our team successful.”
The 6-8 senior, now seventh on Butler’s all-time scoring list, has been a crucial component of Butler basketball during Stevens’ tenure.
“He’s in the conversation of the best ever here at Butler,” Stevens said. “It’s going to be a tough day for me to see him go.”
The Bulldogs will play league leader Valpo on Saturday.