Khalif Battle hangs on the rim following a dunk in Butler’s 80-47 win over IUPUI to begin the season. Photo by Chandler Hart.
JOSH MULLENIX | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
On a night that by no means was boring, the Butler men’s basketball team defeated IUPUI 80-47. Sean McDermott led the Bulldogs once again with 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting and three other Bulldogs finished in double-figures. On a night when Kamar Baldwin left the game with an injury and five Bulldogs didn’t even suit up, Butler found a way to win and then some. Here’s what we learned on a whirlwind of an opening night.
1. Let’s recap everything that happened tonight.
At the end of the night, Butler walked away with a convincing victory. However, opening night did not happen the way anyone thought it would. Before the game even started, Butler announced that five players would not be available against the Jaguars. Henry Baddley and Christian David both sat out with illnesses while Markeese Hastings and Derrick Smits missed the game with a hip and knee injury, respectively. Jordan Tucker also missed the season opener due to a 1-game NCAA suspension. Tucker participated in an NCAA-sanctioned event but it was outside of the NCAA-allowed mileage radius. That all happened prior to tip-off.
And then the game started.
Kamar Baldwin suffered some sort of injury around his rib cage 90 seconds into the game. He returned briefly but left the game at the under 12 timeout and never returned. Already shorthanded, Butler called upon Campbell Donovan early in the first half and he too went down with a knee injury and Butler quickly announced he was out for the rest of the game. It wasn’t sunshine and rainbows from there. At different times during the game, Bryce Golden left the bench for a moment, Aaron Thompson came up hobbling and Khalif Battle went back to the locker room. All three of those players returned to action, but the bottom line is this: Butler is banged up in a big way.
2. Players were called on in this game, and every single one of them answered the call.
With five players missing, players were going to get minutes for the first time in their careers. Bryce Golden got the start in place of Christian David and he made the most of his 31 minutes on the floor. He recorded 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and it could have easily been 25 points. He was aggressive on the offensive end, he rebounded well on both ends of the floor and didn’t hesitate when he was given an open shot. The sophomore looked like he was in rhythm from the tip and the moment was not too big for him.
On a similar note, Khalif Battle was thrusted into 34 minutes of his own after both Baldwin and Donovan went down. Battle was the only guy left to man the backcourt with Aaron Thompson. Battle showed flashes of what he can do for Butler during his 11-point performance. He has incredible bounce and athleticism, can create his own shot and, when given the opportunity, can knock down an open 3-pointer. The four star freshman plays with the utmost confidence and can absolutely be a spark plug off the bench for Butler. Head coach LaVall Jordan got a better idea of what he has in Golden and Battle after tonight’s game.
There is never a good time to have players injured. However, tonight we learned a lot about what the Bulldogs have up and down this roster and young, inexperienced players got a chance to perform and get real minutes.
3. It’s time to get really serious about how good Sean McDermott can be this season. And Bryce Nze continued his stellar play from exhibitions.
We’ve gotten to the point where we need to get serious about just how good McDermott can be this season. After shooting 62.5% from beyond the arc in exhibition play, the redshirt senior tallied 26 points and six rebounds on 4-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line. Once again, McDermott knocked down the outside shot with ridiculous consistency, but when the Jaguars closed out on him, he was getting to the front of the rim for layups. That small addition to his offensive game makes him that much more dangerous. With his size, he can already shoot over the majority of players defending him, and forcing those defenders to choose between his two abilities could translate into a crazy season for McDermott. At some point, it doesn’t matter who Butler is playing if McDermott is not missing.
The other player that continued his stellar play from the exhibitions was Bryce Nze. It took just one game in a Butler uniform for the Milwaukee transfer to grab his first double-double of the season. He finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and once again passed it well adding three assists. Nze continues to fill a much needed role from a year ago and there is no reason to suggest he can’t maintain his stellar play.
This is not an ideal situation. Butler needs Kamar Baldwin back and there is no disputing that. However, we learned a lot about the resilience and toughness of this team and their coach. Aaron Thompson played 40 minutes and contributed eight points and nine assists while running the offense like a veteran. Butler might have more depth than any other team in the Big East if production levels mirror what we saw tonight in any way. Ultimately, Butler needs to get healthy quickly as the schedule toughens, but considering the circumstances, the Bulldogs showed signs of promise on multiple fronts.