BY KYLE BEERY | STAFF REPORTER
The Butler men’s basketball team staved off a rally by Northwestern University Saturday, as the Bulldogs beat the Wildcats 65-56 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Butler (7-1), ranked No. 23 in the AP Top 25 poll, held a slim 57-54 lead after Northwestern’s Vic Law hit a three-pointer with 3:10 to go.
The Bulldogs went on to outscore Northwestern (5-3) 8-3 down the stretch to seal the win.
Junior Kellen Dunham paced the Bulldogs with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Dunham hit the lone three-pointer for the Bulldogs, who were 1-of-5 from deep. The Bulldogs went into the game averaging 18 three-point attempts per game.
Butler interim head coach Chris Holtmann said the Bulldogs went into the game with a good understanding of how it was going to go.
“I didn’t say this to the guys, but my thought was, it was going to be a little bit like going to the dentist,” Holtmann said. “It’s going to be who can grind out a win, because that’s how they’ve been effective playing.”
Northwestern coach Chris Collins said he was pleased with the Wildcats’ effort Saturday.
“(That was) two grind-it-out teams that battle every possession and don’t give an inch,” Collins said. “I think today for us was a step in the right direction.
“We had not been playing well, and although we’re disappointed in the end result, this is the best we’ve played in a while.”
Northwestern has now dropped three straight after winning its first five games.
“This is the best we’ve played,” Collins said. “We just played a really good team on their home floor.”
Holtmann said Northwestern is going to cause teams a lot of problems moving forward and it was a great opportunity for the Bulldogs to face a team like that.
“I could not be more proud of our guys’ grittiness today,” Holtmann said. “They did what we asked them to do, and that is to really fight them every possession and take quality shots.
“Obviously, we’ve got to do some things better. We’ve got to make free throws, but we were tested in the half court more than every game we’ve been tested.”
The Bulldogs used a late second half run to take a 34-28 lead into the half. Sophomore Andrew Chrabascz and senior Alex Barlow converted old-fashioned three-point plays on back-to-back possessions to give the Bulldogs momentum headed into the break.
Butler came out with a 10-5 run to open the second half for its largest lead of the game at 44-33. Butler never trailed in the game.
Freshman and New Castle, Ind. native Bryant McIntosh led the Wildcats with 12 points off the bench.
7’0” junior Alex Olah scored 11 points and brought down four rebounds for the Wildcats. Holtmann said Olah is a menace defensively, but he felt like the Bulldogs handled him well.
“Olah is a load, and he’s hard to score over,” Holtmann said. “We did feel like if we could move them, we could drive them, but I think our guys just took what was there.”
Junior Roosevelt Jones put up 12 points, snaring six rebounds, dishing out four assists and blocking three Northwestern shots. Barlow and freshman Tyler Wideman each scored eight, while Chrabascz and senior Kameron Woods scored seven apiece.
Butler was holding its opponents to 24 percent from three-point range and the Wildcats shot 6-of-18 from deep Saturday.
Holtmann said the Bulldogs showed great poise down the stretch as they pulled away when the Wildcats got within two points late in the game.
“That’s a good word, because that’s one we’ve talked about. Normally you talk about poise on the road, but I think against teams like this, you have to play with poise at home,” Holtmann said.
Holtmann said playing with that poise in front of the home crowd was a good boost for the team.
“Our crowd was phenomenal tonight. I give them a lot of credit,” Holtmann said. “They really gave us a nice lift. Sometimes you can get a little tight at home, but our guys didn’t get tight, they played with great poise and made the necessary plays down the stretch.”
Dunham, who scored nine of his 19 points in the last 15 minutes of the game, said he’s trying to be more aggressive this year.
“Coach Holtmann has given me a green light to be really aggressive, and I’m trying to do that because I feel like I can contribute to the team that way towards the end of the game,” Dunham said.
Butler is now 14-4 in its last 18 games against Big Ten opponents.
Butler hosts Kennesaw State University (3-6) Monday night before travelling to Knoxville, Tenn. to face the University of Tennessee (3-3) Sunday, Dec. 14. Tip off is at 7 p.m. Monday.