On a night that was initially highlighted by return of senior forward Matt Howard and the Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd’s ‘whiteout,’ junior guard Shelvin Mack stole the show.
Mack scored nearly half of the Bulldogs’ (18-9, 10-5 HL) points, putting up a career-high 32 in a 66-51 victory versus Detroit.
The win was Butler’s fourth in a row and third straight at home. It also moved the Bulldogs into a third place tie with Milwaukee in the Horizon League.
The Titans (14-14, 8-8 HL) had no answer for Mack in the second half and were outscored by Mack 24-17 in game’s final 20 minutes.
“[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 we’ve won.”
Mack had an unselfish explanation for his historical night on offense.
“I think my teammates were doing a good job of finding me open and I was taking advantage of my opportunities,” Mack said.
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 announce Howard as a starter for the contest, 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 a game-leading 12 rebounds.
Points weren’t easy to come by for either team throughout the night.
Both the Bulldogs and Titans finished with a 37.5 percent field goal shooting percentage, and Butler ended the game’s opening half with a 34.5 percent mark.
Neither team was able to gain an advantage of more than four points until late in the first half, when junior forward LaMarcus Lowe gave Detroit a five-point edge after making a layup sandwiched between three free throws.
A short time later, freshman guard Ray McCallum kept the pressure on Butler by completing a three-point play following a Howard free throw, giving the Titans a seven-point cushion.
Detroit got four more free throw opportunities in the closing seconds of the half after a foul by junior gurad Ronald Nored and a technical foul on Stevens. The foul on Stevens was his second in as many games.
The Titans walked away with only one point off the four free throw attempts, keeping Butler close at halftime, 34-29.
Detroit finished the half with 17 free throw attempts to Butler’s five.
“I got a foul for demonstrating again,” Stevens said. “But our technical foul defense is one of the best in the country.”
The Bulldogs came out strong in the second half, scoring the first eight points and holding Detroit without a point for almost four and a half minutes.
Mack got the scoring started with a jumper to pull Butler within two. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Mack and junior guard Shawn Vanzant had the Bulldogs back in front by three.
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.
“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 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 effort in the second half.”
Aside from Mack’s 32 points, Butler also received good performances from Vanzant, who finished with 12 points, and sophomore center Andrew Smith, who had four points and eight rebounds.
McCallum and junior forward Nick Minnerath both posted 11 points for the Titans, while Lowe had two blocks and junior center Eli Holman had six rebounds.
Next up for the Bulldogs is a road contest against Green Bay this Tuesday. The Phoenix (12-14, 6-8 HL) have lost three straight and dropped an 81-75 decision to Butler on Jan. 21.