KYLE BEERY | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Butler men’s basketball team once again gets a taste of March Madness this year, after missing the tournament last season.
The Bulldogs (22-10 overall, 12-6 Big East) are the No. 6-seed in the Midwest region and will take on the No. 11-seed Texas Longhorns tomorrow at CONSOL Energy Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn.
Both teams are coming off conference tournament losses in which they saw second half leads disappear.
Butler dropped its Big East Tournament Quarterfinal game against Xavier 67-61 after an eight-point lead disappeared thanks to a field goal drought for more than nine minutes, allowing the Musketeers to force overtime and steal the win.
The Longhorns (20-13, 8-10 Big 12) also had quite the collapse in the Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinals. They held a 67-57 lead over Iowa State with under four minutes to play.
The Cyclones ended the game on a 12-0 run capped off by a Monte Morris buzzer beater to give them a 69-67 win. The Cyclones went on to defeat Kansas in the championship game and earn a No. 3 seed.
The Bulldogs were picking up steam before the conference tournament, winning three of their last four regular season games.
Butler has not lost back-to-back games since December when they lost to Tennessee and Indiana.
Head coach Chris Holtmann said the Bulldogs will be looking to rebound against a long Texas team.
“We’re going there trying to do what we’ve done since the start of league play,” Holtmann said. “We’ve played really good basketball, have played well in February and well in March. When you get in the NCAA Tournament you’re going to play really good teams, so we’re going to have to play really well to win it.”
Fixing the droughts
The Bulldogs came out hot in both halves against Xavier — a 12-2 run to start the game, and a 9-1 spurt to start the second half. But in both halves, they hit droughts, allowing the Musketeers to climb back in the game. Butler scored just three points, all on free throws over a 9:15 span in the second half.
These droughts are nothing new to the Bulldogs. For just one example, Butler was held without a field goal for nearly six minutes during a March 3 home loss against Georgetown. The Bulldogs held the Hoyas to just six points during that span, but if it weren’t for the drought, they could have taken control of the game.
Junior Kellen Dunham said he is pleased with their good starts in recent games, but the Bulldogs have recognized the droughts as a problem.
“I think we kind of have to work on that in practice, we kind of have our lulls in practice, when we go up and down.” Dunham said. “I think that’s one thing that we’ve got to work on going into the tournament, is keeping more of a consistency. It is a game of runs, and we understand that, but that can’t happen late in the game, we’ve got to have our run late.
Playing for the seniors
Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year Alex Barlow scored a career high 22 points in Thursday’s loss against Xavier. He also grabbed four rebounds and four steals, on top of countless other hustle plays, something Butler fans — and basketball fans across the country — have taken notice of.
“That was something my dad has stressed since I was little was playing defense, playing hard, getting rebounds, just because I wasn’t very big, I was going to have to do something other people weren’t going to want to do,” Barlow said. “It’s been instilled at me at a young age, and it’s something that I’ve carried with me my whole career.”
Barlow is one of five Butler players with NCAA Tournament experience. The Bulldogs were knocked out in the round of the 32 by Marquette in the 2013 tournament, Brad Stevens’ last game as head coach before leaving for the Boston Celtics.
This tournament appearance is Butler’s 13th, and seventh in nine years.
Dunham said they’ll have some extra motivation trying to extend the seniors’ careers as long as they can.
“Growing up, I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of people at the end of the season, because basketball brings all of us together, and it’s kind of the foundation of our relationship,” Dunham said. “I think that extra motivation of playing for them so I don’t see them in tears after the game is enough for me because I’ve been through it so many times.
- Tomorrow’s game will tip off on CBS following the conclusion of the Notre Dame-Northeastern game, which is set for 12:15 p.m.