VALPARAISO– For the first time in seven years, the Butler men’s basketball team won’t appear in the NCAA tournament.
Needing to win four games to take the Horizon League tournament championship and earn an automatic bid, the Bulldogs fell short in a semifinal 65-46 loss to top-seeded Valparaiso Saturday night.
Junior forward Ryan Broekhoff led the way with 19 points and 16 rebounds before a near-capacity crowd in the Crusaders’ home arena.
Coach Brad Stevens said his team would accept a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament or the College Basketball Invitational, if offered.
“We’re not an NCAA tournament team,” Stevens said. “Our overall success this year is not worthy.”
Butler (20-14, 11-7) entered the game having won seven of its last eight. The Bulldogs dropped all three matchups with Valparaiso (22-10, 14-4).
“Any team that’s the age we are is going to be inconsistent,” Stevens said. “We played like a green, young team today.”
The Crusaders play Detroit Tuesday at 9 p.m. in the conference championship game, which was won by Butler the previous two seasons.
“It’s different,” senior guard Ronald Nored said. “Credit to them for the way they played. They scored on us and made it tough for us to get the ball where we wanted it.”
Sophomore guard Chrishawn Hopkins kept the Bulldogs within striking distance until midway through the second half. He scored 18 points. Sophomore forward-center Erik Fromm had 12 points and six rebounds.
No other Butler player had more than four points.
“Butler got some pretty good looks,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “The ball just wasn’t going through.”
After making more than half their field goal attempts in the first two rounds, the Bulldogs shot 33.3 percent Saturday.
Junior center Kevin Van Wijk and junior point guard Erik Buggs contributed 11 points apiece for the Crusaders, who shot 53.5 percent.
Butler led 7-2 about three minutes into the game after Hopkins rattled home a jumper. Valparaiso then went on a 17-1 run over the next 7:25.
Hopkins finally ended the drought with a 3-pointer to draw the Bulldogs with 19-11.
But Stevens dealt with a shortage of other players on whom he could rely for offense. Starters Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith and Nored combined for eight points in 94 minutes of playing time.
“They really struggled,” Stevens said. “I don’t know why.”
The Crusaders dominated the glass by a 39-22 margin. That helped them to a 31-24 lead after the first half, when 11 of Valparaiso’s 14 field goals were either layups or tip-ins.
“We’ve been focusing on getting the ball in the paint,” Buggs said.
Broekhoff, the Horizon League Player of the Year, wouldn’t allow Butler to come back.
“He was the best player on the floor by far,” Stevens said. “You’ve got to be incredibly tough to win in an environment like this. We got beat pretty good.”
Sophomore guard Jay Harris added nine points and junior center Richie Edwards scored eight to lead the Crusaders’ reserves.
Harris made a layup and a 3-pointer in a two-minute span of the second half to give Valparaiso a 41-30 lead with 13:44 remaining.
Things only went downhill from there, as the Bulldogs fell behind by as many as 21 points in a game that reminded some of their 71-59 loss in the regular season finale here at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“The two frontline guys [Van Wijk and Broekhoff] killed us again,” Stevens said. “It’s a loud gym. We had more fans here than we normally do. We didn’t get as [many] good looks as last time.”
The Crusaders remembered the result from a week ago, when they raced out to an 18-4 lead against an overmatched Butler team.
“We were quietly confident we could repeat what happened,” Broekhoff said.
A Horizon League official said he expects Butler’s postseason status to be resolved by the evening of March 12 at the latest.