Butler wins final non-conference game, prepares for Big East play

Butler faced Belmont Sunday night in what was a final tune-up for impending Big East play. The Bruins stayed competitive throughout, but Butler came away with a 67-56 win.

Butler interim head coach Chris Holtmann said Belmont is not an easy team to face, and it was a quality win for the team.

“I think our guys knew this would be a very, very good win for our team,” he said. “They sensed that. They knew how good Belmont was.”

Holtmann said he knew Belmont’s offense was going to be a force to be reckoned with. That proved to be true early, as the Bruins hit 6 of their first 9 shots from behind the arc to start the game. Belmont finished 10-for-26 from behind the arc.

Belmont (8-5) had an 11-point lead with 10:39 to play in the opening half, but Butler fought back. A 17-5 run gave Butler a 32-31 lead with 4:29 to go in the half. The Bulldogs took a 39-38 lead into halftime.

Kellen Dunham led Butler with 12 points in the half. Roosevelt Jones added 11. Dunham finished with 15 and Jones finished with 20.

Belmont stuck around during the second half, trailing by only six with under a minute to play. But Butler was able to milk the clock and finish on a 5-0 run to close out the game.

After shooting 52 percent in the first half, Belmont shot only 27 percent in the second half. Holtmann praised his team’s defensive effort.

“Our guys dug in,” he said. “To hold that team to 27 percent in the second half, that’s an outstanding effort. Our guys second half defensively were outstanding, and it was the difference in the game.”

Freshman Tyler Wideman saw the floor for 13 minutes Sunday night, and made the most of the opportunity. He finished with 7 points, a team-high 9 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Wideman said he focuses on his defensive effort first and foremost.

“My teammates are pushing me more and more every day and making me play better,” he said. “I just try to contribute in whatever way I can, starting on the defensive end. Whatever happens on offense happens.”

Barlow was taken out of the game midway through the second half after hitting the floor hard, but he re-entered later in the game.

Butler (10-3) now turns its attention to conference play. The road will be far from easy for the Bulldogs, who open Big East play with a trip to No. 7 Villanova on New Year’s Eve. Butler was 0-2 against Villanova last season, dropping a 76-73 overtime contest at home on New Year’s Eve and losing 67-48 on the road later in the season.

It will be Roosevelt Jones’ first time playing in the Big East. He said he is looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m just looking forward to competing with the top players in the country,” he said. “I’m ready to compete against the best people around.”

Wednesday’s game against Villanova is set to tip off at 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.