Butler vs. Providence: Beyond the box score

Aaron Thompson drives to the basket against Providence. Thompson recorded three points and five assists in the loss. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis. 

JOSHUA DOERING | CO-SPORTS EDITOR | jdoering@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team dropped its second straight game, falling in overtime at home to Providence, 73-67. Butler was down by as many as 14 in the first half but rallied to send the game into overtime thanks to late threes from Nate Fowler and Kamar Baldwin. Here are three takeaways from an ugly loss.

1. Butler was abysmal in the first half but somehow stayed in the game. 

Providence’s first five possessions were as follows: layup, fouled at the basket, layup, dunk and dunk off a Butler turnover. Already down five, LaVall Jordan took four of his starters out. The next time down the floor, the Friars missed a wide-open three and got an offensive rebound. On possession seven, Baldwin fouled Maliek White behind the arc. Only 11 minutes into the game, 10 Bulldogs had seen the floor in an effort to infuse some energy into the team. At the 2:30 mark of the first half, Butler’s turnover total — six — was still higher than its number of made field goals — five. 

It’s truly remarkable the Bulldogs only trailed by five at halftime considering they were outrebounded by six, lost the points in the paint battle by eight and got 10 fewer points off the bench than the Friars. The one major positive to come from the opening 20 minutes was Butler’s ability to get to — and take advantage of — the free throw line. Butler went 11-of-11 from the charity stripe, which accounted for 41 percent of the Bulldogs’ offense. 

2. The Bulldogs’ role players were outplayed. 

Alpha Diallo leads Providence in points, assists, rebounds and steals per game. He attempted one shot and scored a single point in the first half. Diallo finished with 14 points while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out two assists, all below his season averages. Butler should never lose a game where that happens, much less one in which Baldwin scores 27 points on 40 percent shooting. The discrepancy came in the contributions from everybody else. Three Bulldogs made a field goal before halftime. Five Friars had at least five points.

Sean McDermott or Paul Jorgensen were a combined 0-for-10 from the field and misfired on all seven 3-pointers. The duo — who contribute 22.3 points per game — ended with a total of four. Aaron Thompson only contributed three. Providence’s bench outscored Butler’s by 13, something that hadn’t happened since Jan. 9 in the road loss to Seton Hall. Butler isn’t winning any Big East games with that kind of production from its role players. 

3. Butler’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a major blow. 

This loss is an absolutely brutal blow to Butler’s NCAA Tournament chances; there’s no way around it. Instead of having to win two incredibly realistic games to reach nine Big East wins, the Bulldogs now have to close out the regular season with three straight victories, including two on the road. The bubble is a strange place this season, so Butler is by no means out of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Losing a home game to the worst team in the conference just makes the job much harder than it needed to be. 

If the Bulldogs do end up missing out on March Madness, they will look back at this game as the reason why. They were lethargic from the opening tip and never looked like a team playing for its NCAA Tournament life. Butler didn’t deserve to win this game and Providence did just enough to capitalize on the Bulldogs’ lack of urgency. Teams that get outplayed in games they should unquestionably win this late in the season don’t deserve to play in the Big Dance. Luckily for Butler, all hope isn’t lost yet.

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