Butler vs. Xavier: Beyond the box score

Kelan Martin runs down the court. Martin led the Bulldogs with 34 points in the overtime loss to Xavier. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Lafakis. 

JOSHUA DOERING | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR | jdoering@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team’s winning streak ended in heartbreaking fashion with an overtime loss at home to Xavier. Another furious rally got the Bulldogs back in the game, but they ultimately came up short. Here are three takeaways from an incredibly exciting game.

1. Role players made the difference in this game. 

The Bulldogs did a good enough job on Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura, holding them to a combined eight points in the first half. Macura finished with only six points on two field goal attempts. However, the Musketeers still scored 40 points before halftime, 16 of which came from their bench. Kelan Martin poured in 34 points and was magnificent, but it wasn’t enough by itself.  Xavier won this game because of their role players, not their stars.

For Butler to win against elite teams like Xavier, it has to be a true team effort. Martin and Kamar Baldwin, as good as they are, can’t beat the best teams in the country by themselves. Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara topped Martin’s output by themselves. When three starters (Jorgensen, Thompson and Wideman) only give Butler 10 total points, that spells trouble. The Bulldogs didn’t have enough players contributing at a high level to hold off Xavier’s balanced attack.

Photos by Jimmy Lafakis. 

2. Maybe Butler really can come back against anyone.

Butler had been really good starting games during this winning streak, but struggled to get going in this one. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Xavier had a 29-11 lead. The Bulldogs clawed their way back and eventually took the lead like they’ve done so many times before this season. Unlike other teams, the Musketeers didn’t collapse and go away. Instead, they rallied, only to have Butler rally again and send the game to overtime.

They fell short in the end, but should still take an enormous amount of confidence away from this game. Mounting furious rallies against inexperienced Ohio State and Georgetown teams is one thing. Doing against a veteran team ranked fifth in the country is quite another. Now the Bulldogs know exactly what they’re capable of and have proven they can claw back into games with the best of the best.

3. On to the next one.

This is a tough loss to swallow, but the Bulldogs can’t let it carry over to Saturday when they travel to face No. 1 Villanova. It’s important not to let one loss turn into a string of poor performances. At the end of the day, it’s one game in a long season with everything still to play for. Butler is still in great position to finish in the top half of the Big East and get into the NCAA tournament with a decent seed.

That being said, Butler needs to make sure they learn from this game. Had they started better, they could have won in regulation. Another slow start against Villanova and the Bulldogs will be in big trouble for a second straight game. The defense that has been so good the past five games went out the window against Xavier. That needs to be addressed. Moving forward, the key is finding the balance between focusing on this game too much and ignoring the lessons it provided.

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