Several Bulldogs got banged up in the process, but the Butler men’s basketball team came away with a 72-65 win against UIC (6-19, 1-12 HL) Monday.
Butler (16-9, 8-5 HL) continues its current homestand Thursday when the Raiders of Wright State (17-9, 10-4 HL) visit Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Howard is questionable for the game after taking an elbow to the face while Butler was trying to inbound the ball. He suffered a bloody cut above his right eye that required stitches. He did not return in the second half.
“I’ve never really seen anything like that before,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s such a tough kid, and I know he doesn’t want to spend any time on the bench this late in his career.”
Sophomore Chase Stigall also left the game during the first half with what Stevens described as a “lower leg tweak.”
The first 20 minutes of the contest were back and forth with neither team leading by more than five points.
Each team had its star in the opening act.
Junior Shelvin Mack started fast for the Bulldogs, tallying seven points in the first 10 minutes.
Flames’ senior Robo Kreps put up 14 points in the opening half, which he said was due to opportunities to drive into the lane.
After Howard left the game, Butler’s offense lulled until a 3-pointer from senior Zach Hahn six and a half minutes later spurned a run. With help from junior Ronald Nored and senior Shawn Vanzant, the Bulldogs’ pushed the lead to a game-high 13 points.
A late push by UIC wasn’t enough and Butler held on for a 7-point win.
“If you would’ve told me that we had Matt play 17 minutes and that we lost Chase early and still won by seven, I would’ve been plenty happy,” Stevens said.
Mack’s 17 points led the Bulldogs. Freshman Khyle Marshall finished with 11 points.
Nored made up for Howard’s absence by grabbing a team-high eight rebounds.
Kreps led UIC with 22 points, exactly the number he needed to become the ninth player in UIC history to score 1,500 or more career points.
Two days before, Butler completed a regular season sweep of the Cleveland State Vikings (21-5, 10-4 HL) to end a three-game losing streak.
Howard led the Bulldogs to a 73-61 victory with 14 points, supported by the double-digit scoring of sophomore Andrew Smith, Marshall, Mack and Vanzant.
“When you lose three straight, two in overtime and one by two points, you can feel like you’re a long way away, and I think these guys did a great job of staying focused and staying together,” Stevens said. “It’s hard to do that when things aren’t going your way.”
Despite a slow start, Butler found itself up four at halftime, thanks to Vanzant, Hahn, Marshall and Smith each scoring six points in the first half.
Cleveland State pushed back throughout the second half, tying the game several times.
Howard put the game away with a 3-pointer that gave Butler a 10-point lead with just less than five minutes remaining.
Butler’s victory snapped a 13-game home winning streak and a six-game overall winning streak for the Vikings, and broke its own three-game losing streak in the process.
Butler’s contest against the Raiders, who are currently tied for second in the conference with Cleveland State, begins tomorrow at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPNU.
“We’ve got a banged up team, but so does Wright State,” Stevens said. “We’ll play who’s healthy and be ready to go.”