When Green Bay defeated Valparaiso, 81-80, in overtime Monday night, the Butler men’s basketball team moved into second place in the Horizon League heading into the final weekend of regular season games.
The Bulldogs (20-9, 12-5 HL) helped themselves in the rankings Saturday with a 79-52 victory at UIC.
Four Bulldogs scored in double-figures to secure Butler’s sixth straight victory and sixth consecutive season with at least 20 wins.
Senior forward Matt Howard, fifth on Butler’s all-time scoring list, led all scorers with 19 points. Howard also grabbed nine rebounds.
Sophomore center Andrew Smith was close behind with 16 points and nine boards.
Playing their final home game of the regular season, the Flames (7-22, 2-15 HL) connected on nine of their first 13 shots to create a 21-17 lead midway through the first half.
Approximately eight minutes into the half, the Bulldogs defense buckled down and held UIC to just six more points before the break.
The defense opened up the Bulldog offense and gave Butler a 40-27 lead into halftime.
“I thought we did a lot of good things after the second media timeout in the first half,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “Our rhythm defensively spurred us offensively.”
The Bulldogs carried that momentum into the second half, extending their lead to 30 points with about four minutes remaining.
Junior guard Shelvin Mack’s 10-point effort marked the 13th consecutive game in which he scored in double-figures. Mack also added six assists.
Senior Shawn Vanzant contributed 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
Despite shooting 4-of-17 from behind the arc, the Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the field, while holding UIC to 38.2 percent shooting.
The Flames entered the contest as the top rebounding team in the Horizon League. Led by Howard and Smith, who each hauled down nine rebounds, Butler out-rebounded UIC, 39-32.
“I was really encouraged by our offensive rebounding and how we limited them on the boards,” Stevens said. “We are finding a nice stride at the right time, and we’ll see where it can go from here.”
In the two teams’ first league meeting, UIC senior guard Robo Kreps scored 22. This time, the Bulldogs held the Flames’ leading-scorer to 10 points.
“The team awareness on him was great,” Stevens said. “Ron [Nored] and Shawn [Vanzant] did a good job guarding him.”
The Bulldogs will close out the season on Saturday versus Loyola (15-13, 6-10 HL) at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The contest could potentially be the last home game for seniors Howard, Vanzant, Zach Hahn, Alex Anglin and Grant Leiendecker, who will be honored before the game against the Ramblers.
Cleveland State (23-6, 12-4 HL) is first in the conference by a half game. The Vikings’ two remaining games are on the road against Milwaukee and Green Bay.
The Horizon League Championship, which will be hosted by the conference regular season champion, will begin March 1.