BY KYLE BEERY | STAFF REPORTER
It had all the makings for a classic trap game.
The Butler men’s basketball team soared to No. 15 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll Monday after a big Thanksgiving trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, an in-state road win, and a gritty win over a Big Ten team. With a trip to the University of Tennessee on Sunday and a rivalry game with Indiana University ahead in the Crossroads Classic, the Bulldogs had every right to overlook the Kennesaw State Owls.
But they didn’t do that.
Butler beat Kennesaw State 93-51 Monday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse to improve to 8-1 on the season, earning its 18th straight non-conference home win.
The Bulldogs were efficient Monday night, to say the least. The Bulldogs shot 59 percent in the game and made 16-of-25 shots in the first half. Butler missed 20 shots Monday night, and produced 10 offensive rebounds, leading to 14 second chance points.
Butler scored on 15 of its first 16 possessions of the game, getting out to a 32-15 lead.
Interim head coach Chris Holtmann said in practice on Sunday one of his older players “grabbed one of the younger guys and made sure he was listening to film.”
“When you see those kinds of things, you know you have a team that is on point and ready to go,” Holtmann said. “And I felt like that today in shootaround and yesterday in film.”
Holtmann said the Bulldogs have a few more games like this with Tennessee-Martin and Belmont mixed in with Tennessee and Indiana, which will make for a difficult stretch with mid-major competition before Big East play begins with Villanova on New Year’s Eve.
“The challenge will be how do we move forward from this and continue to grow and improve,” Holtmann said, “and as we’ve said, it’s about playing to a standard, which we didn’t do the entire game.”
Holtmann said they try to play to a high standard on each possession, which veteran leadership helps with.
“When you have older guys that have been through it and have seen it, and have an appreciation for the game, I think it really helps, and to this point, they’ve really displayed that level of leadership,” Holtmann said.
It was Butler’s best shooting performance since shooting 71 percent in the season opener against Maine. The Bulldogs were 17-for-19 from the free throw line in the first half, but finished 28-for-39 on the night.
Junior Roosevelt Jones led the way for the Bulldogs with 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Freshman Kelan Martin put up 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, including 4-of-7 from three-point range. Junior Kellen Dunham finished with 13, senior Kameron Woods had 11, and senior Jackson Aldridge had 10 off the bench.
“We were telling all the team to stay focused throughout the whole game, no matter who we’re playing” Jones said. “Whether we’re playing, not to downplay though, Kennesaw State or North Carolina, but we’ve got to be ready to play for every game, so that’s basically how we came to it, and we came out and played aggressive for the whole game.”
Butler had its inside-out post game working, with 42 points in the paint and making 7-of-18 three-pointers.
Yonel Brown paced the Owls with 14 points, while Orlando Coleman and Delbert Love had 11 apiece.
Butler now prepares to travel south to face the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville Sunday. The Vols are 3-3 on the year. With wins over Kansas State, UC-Santa Clara and Texas Southern, but losses at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas and Marquette, Holtmann said the Volunteers are a hard team to read.
“I think it’s going to be a real battle,” Holtmann said. “I’ve followed their scores a little bit, I have not watched any of them, other than I watched a little bit of their game versus Marquette when we were in the Bahamas.
“It’s going to be a great, great challenge, obviously our most significant road challenge of the year to date.”
Holtmann said Butler will have to take advantage of the rest of the week before heading south.
“They play a little bit differently, which we need some days to prepare for,” Holtmann said. “They play extremely hard, and it’s going to be a great challenge on Sunday.
The Volunteers are shooting just 26 percent from three-point range on the season. Guard Josh Richardson leads the team with 16 points per game.
The Bulldogs are 1-1 all-time against the Volunteers, with the last meeting being a 76-71 overtime loss in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Dealing with the expectations of a No. 15 ranking
Holtmann said while the high rank his team has garnered, he doesn’t read much into it.
“To be honest with you, and being completely honest, I don’t know (the ranking), unless I get a text from somebody, and I usually just don’t even pay attention to it,” Holtmann said. “It’s a real credit, I think to the fact that we’re a part of a program that’s had great success over a number of years, so I think that’s refelected in some of those polls.
“And certainly not to take anything away from what these guys have done. They’ve had a great start, but it’s really irrelevant to our progress as a team, and it just is, and I don’t pay attention to it, and I wish my friends would stop texting me,” Holtmann added with a laugh, “I don’t want to be rude, but there’s so much season left to play.”
While the rankings may not be in the forefront of Holtmann’s mind, it sort of brings the Bulldogs back into the national landscape after being down in a transition year last year, in the team’s first season in the Big East. It’s the first time the Bulldogs have been ranked since the 2012-2013 season, when they reached as high as No. 9 after wins over top-ranked Indiana and a top-10 team in Gonzaga.