No. 22 Butler knocks off DePaul 83-73 en route to fifth straight win

Matthew VanTryon | MANAGING EDITOR

It wasn’t always pretty, but then again, pretty isn’t a staple of Butler basketball. What has been a recent staple? Winning. No. 22 Butler did just that Saturday afternoon, knocking off DePaul 83-73 en route to its fifth consecutive Big East win.

It was two veterans who led the Bulldogs. Kellen Dunham finished with a game-high 24 points while Roosevelt Jones added 20 points of his own.

Butler coach Chris Holtmann said success often comes through the leadership of those who have been through the ropes before.

“You have to give (Jones and Dunham credit),” he said. “They recognized this was going to be a tough one and responded when they needed to respond. These guys continue to have the right approach when it gets tight, and they have an ability to get on to the next play.”

Dunham played on last year’s team, which finished 4-14 in Big East play last season. He said the difference this season has come in the details.

“I think it’s been a really detailed effort,” he said. “We’re not looking ahead of anybody and we’re not afraid of anybody. We’re approaching every game like it’s the last one.”

Holtmann said last year’s struggles are paying dividends — this team knows how to perform under pressure.

“If that doesn’t hit you square between the eyes and tell you what you need to work on, what a wasted opportunity,” he said. “This is a connected group that cares first and foremost about our team’s success.”

Butler (18-6, 8-3) started out red-hot from the floor, shooting 70 percent from the floor in the opening minutes of the first half. Dunham began the day 3-for-4 from behind the arc and Butler built up as much as a 20-point lead with just under four minutes to play in the first half. But DePaul cut the deficit to 13 going into halftime.

Butler capitalized on Blue Demons’ miscues in the first half, scoring 14 points off nine miscues. By comparison, DePaul (12-13, 6-6) managed only three points off eight takeaways in the first half.

DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said he felt fortunate that his team trailed by only 13 going into the half.

“The combination of our poor offensive play along with Butler’s hot shooting put us in a deep hole,” he said. “Our first half, giving up 14 points off turnovers, is a problem.”

DePaul shot a paltry 38 percent from the floor in the first half, but came out firing to start the second half. DePaul cut the deficit to four with 9:37 to play, as Butler went cold from the floor.

DePaul capitalized on its 3-point shooting ability, knocking down five 3-pointers in the second half and nine in the game.

Holtmann said their ability to space Butler out presented some issues defensively.

“They’re really hard to guard,” he said. “They can really space you out. The thing that makes teams hard to guard is when you have multiple 3-point shooters. They have a plethora of 3-point shooters.”

But a 3-pointer by Alex Barlow gave Butler a 10-point lead with six minutes to play. Butler finished strong, and was aided by frequent Blue Demon fouls. Butler found themselves in the bonus with just under 15 minutes to play, and shot 21-30 from the line in the game.

Purnell said his team eventually ran out of energy as Jones and Dunham kept going.

“We expended a lot of energy catching up, and their two good players did what they’re going to do,” he said.

Butler will have the week off before hosting No. 7 Villanova next Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will be played in front of what is already a sold-out Hinkle Fieldouse.

Holtmann has continually preached staying in the moment this season, but said his team has earned the right to get excited about next week’s matchup.

“I think you want to stay in the moment as much as possible, but you also don’t want to downplay this moment or our guys,” he said. “They’ve earned this opportunity. It’s a credit to these guys. They’ve earned the right to play a meaningful game in February.”

The win gives the Bulldogs sole possession of second-place in the conference.