Hungry for a bone: Men’s basketball back in mix to host HL tournament

In the final five seconds of  play last night, senior Matt Howard single-handedly won the game.

A dunk off an inbounds play and an intercepted pass moments later sealed Butler’s 64-62 win over Green Bay.

Three consecutive conference victories have vaulted the Butler men’s basketball team into third place in the Horizon League and kept its hopes alive for hosting the conference tournament.

The Bulldogs (19-9, 11-5 HL) are now one game behind first-place Valparaiso and half a game behind second-place Cleveland State.

The game against the Phoenix (12-15, 6-9 HL) was tight throughout, with neither team ever leading by more than eight points, thanks to an onslaught of 3-pointers.

The Bulldogs held a six-point lead at the half, but Green Bay wouldn’t go away. Phoenix freshman Alec Brown kept the his team close, tying the game on two separate occasions in the second half, once at 55 and once at 62.

Butler attempted to pull away again with free throws and more 3-pointers, but the Titans kept pace and Brown sank two free throws to tie the contest at 62.

Following a timeout, the Bulldogs inbounded the ball to Howard, who drove straight into the lane and put down a dunk with less than two seconds remaining.

Howard’s interception of Green Bay’s resulting inbound then sealed the win for Butler.

Howard finished with a game-high 22 points and eight rebounds.

The 3-point shooting  against Green Bay was similar to the action against Detroit Saturday.

The night against the Titans (14-14, 8-8 HL) was highlighted by the return of Howard from injury and the Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd’s ‘whiteout,’ but Mack stole the show.

Mack’s career-high 32 points were nearly half the Bulldogs’ total in a 66-51 victory versus Detroit.

“[Mack] is a good shooter and a good player,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “He made big plays and he has played really well for us in the last four games.”

The Titans had no answer for Mack, who outscored Detroit, 24-17, in the second half.

“We witnessed one of the best players in the country,” Detroit head coach Ray McCallum said. “Mack showed why he’s an All-American and we had no answer for him today.”

The season-high crowd of 9,004 was brought to its collective feet long before Mack put on his scoring display.

As the announcer at Hinkle prepared to call Howard’s name as a starter, the crowd gave the stitched-up forward a standing ovation.

“I felt pretty good,” Howard said. “If anything, I was well rested, and it was good to get the win tonight.”

Howard finished the game with nine points, three steals and 12 rebounds.

A key moment came when  Detroit got four free throw opportunities in the closing seconds of the half after a foul by junior guard Ronald Nored and a technical foul on Stevens—his second in as many games.

But the Titans made only one of the attempts to keep Butler within five at the half.

“I got a foul for demonstrating again,” Stevens said. “But our technical foul defense is one of the best in the country.”

The Bulldogs scored the first eight points of the second half and held Detroit without a point for nearly four and a half minutes.

The Titans kept the contest close until midway through the half, when Butler, up 45-44 with 9:08 remaining, proceeded to score 15 of the next 19 points, with 10 of them coming from Mack.

The Bulldogs eventually pushed their lead to a game-high 16 points with a minute remaining, following another field goal from Mack.

They went on to win by 15.

“Our biggest key was going to the glass,” Stevens said. “I thought we made a great second half effort.”

On Feb. 10, again led by Mack, the Bulldogs defeated Wright State, 71-63, to stay competitive in the standings.

“I was proud of our guys coming together under difficult circumstances and doing well without much preparation,” Stevens said.

Those circumstances were headlined by Howard’s head injury, which sidelined the forward and caused the team to play a rotation of only eight players.

This wasn’t a problem early for Butler, though, as the Bulldogs went on a 13-0 run early in the game.

The Raiders (17-11, 10-6 HL), led by seniors Vaughn Duggins and Cooper Land, went on a 13-0 run of their own and turned what was once an 11-point deficit into a three-point lead.

Senior guard Zach Hahn undid that work, though, when he sank two 3-pointers just before halftime.

The final 12 minutes of the game continued the back-and-forth trend. The Bulldogs maintained a lead throughout and eventually pulled away thanks to strong free throw shooting.

Butler plays at UIC on Saturday at 2 p.m.