Despite not having senior Matt Howard for the game against Wright State, the Butler men’s basketball team proved it was still a force to be reckoned with in the tightly-packed Horizon League.
Led by junior Shelvin Mack, the Bulldogs (17-9, 9-5 HL) defeated the Raiders (17-10, 10-5 HL) 71-63 and picked up a much needed conference victory. The win was Butler’s third in a row and second straight at home.
“I was proud of our guys coming together under difficult circumstances and doing well without much preparation,” head coach Brad Stevens said.
Those circumstances were headlined by Howard’s injury, which sidelined the forward and caused the team to play a rotation of only eight players. Howard is still day-to-day with a head injury.
This wasn’t a problem early for Butler. After going down 5-2, the Bulldogs went on a 13-0 run, led by 4 points from Mack and back-to-back 3-pointers from junior Ronald Nored and senior Shawn Vanzant.
Wright State came storming back in the middle of the half, led by seniors Vaughn Duggins and Cooper Land. The Raiders put together a 13-0 run of their own and turned what was once an 11-point deficit into a 3-point lead.
“I want to commend my team,” Wright State head coach Billy Donlon said after the contest. “I want to commend the resiliency and the toughness of my team to make a game of it.”
The Bulldogs had one more surge late in the first half. Down 34-33 with 2:03 remaining, senior Zach Hahn sank two 3-pointers to give Butler a 39-34 lead that the team would take into the locker room.
The Bulldogs started the second half much like they did the first. An 8-0 run paced by Mack and sophomore Andrew Smith put Butler up by 9 early on.
The final 12 minutes of the game were a back-and-forth trading of points. The Bulldogs maintained a lead throughout and eventually pulled away thanks to strong free throw shooting.
In the midst of those final 12 minutes, an interesting and often unseen moment occurred on the Butler bench. Stevens was called for a technical foul from across the court, giving the Raiders two free throw opportunities.
“I was told I was being demonstrative,” Stevens said. “We’re not allowed to be demonstrative, so I guess it was a good call.”
In the end, the foul was a minor speed bump for the Bulldogs, who kept pace with Milwaukee in the Horizon League standings.
Mack finished with a game-high 20 points for Butler. Vanzant and Smith put up 15 points apiece, and Smith was the leading Bulldog rebounder with 6.
“They [the Wright State defenders] were on our shooters,” Smith said. “It opened up the inside and I made the finishes.”
Duggins led the Raiders with 19 points and 4 rebounds, while Land, who hadn’t played since Wright State’s last game against Butler on January 16, added 12 points.
Duggins and Land, who combined for six of Wright State’s eight 3-pointers, had trouble from beyond the arc in the second half, putting up a single 3-pointer combined.
“We shot it [the 3-pointer] well in the first half,” Duggins said. “They wanted to run us off the 3-point line and make us drive the ball.”
Butler will be right back at it on Saturday against Detroit. The game against the Titans (14-13, 8-7 HL) will be the final of three consecutive home contests.
“[Detroit plays] a completely different game,” Stevens said. “They play a different style, they’re a little less perimeter-oriented and they’re more of a power team.”