Butler vs. Creighton: Beyond the box score

Kamar Baldwin exited the game with 2:43 left in the first half. The team announced he re-injured his ankle. Photo by Donald Crocker / Collegian file photo. 

JOSH MULLENIX | SPORTS EDITOR | jmulleni@butler.edu 

Creighton’s Mitch Ballock knocked down a three on the Bluejays’ first possession. Fast forward roughly 40 minutes and the Butler men’s basketball team loses to Creighton 81-59 on Feb. 23 behind 15 3-pointers for Creighton — their most this season. 

The 22-point loss is being generous. At one point in the second half, the Bulldogs were getting doubled up, 70-35. The Bulldogs were outplayed in almost every statistical category and the Bluejays took advantage of Butler’s mistakes and then some. 

Creighton is one of the hottest teams in the country, and Butler has really struggled at times recently. The narrative is still the same after today. We go beyond the box score of an embarrassing loss.

1. Butler wasn’t nearly good enough defending the 3-point line.

The Bluejays aren’t just the best 3-point shooting team in the Big East, they might have more firepower from beyond the arc than anyone else in the country. Ty-Shon Alexander is probably the best all-around player on Creighton’s team and he shoots 39% from deep. Marcus Zegarowski couldn’t miss today — 25 points on 7-of-7 from deep. And, we haven’t even mentioned Mitch Ballock who will finish his Creighton career as one of the most prolific shooters in program history from a quantity and efficiency perspective. 

The trio was responsible for 13 of the 15 threes Creighton hit against Butler.

It’s not a secret what Creighton does, and the Bulldogs weren’t ready for it from the jump. All game long, the Bulldogs were a little late to the party when guarding the perimeter. Early in the game, the Bluejays hit a couple of tough 3-pointers, but it turned into defensive letdowns for Butler. Jordan Tucker left Alexander wide open in the corner on one occasion, Aaron Thompson looked lost defending the pick-and-roll on multiple occasions resulting in wide-open Zegarowski threes and Ballock was very effective running off of screens. 

Butler’s Big East defense is officially a problem — and has been for a while. The Bulldogs are last in defensive efficiency and last in 3-point field goal defense. In conference play, opponents are shooting 38.4% against the Bulldogs. For reference, Chicago State is the worst 3-point defensive team in the country and opponents are shooting 39% against them from deep this season.

2. Turnovers and second chance points make it much harder to win on the road. 

On top of the plethora of 3-pointers, the Bluejays took advantage of Butler’s mistakes and the extra opportunities they were given. The Bulldogs had some issues taking care of the basketball on the road again. To make matters even worse, Creighton had 11 steals and turned a lot of those live-ball turnovers into points. They finished with 18 points off of 16 Butler turnovers.

Similarly, when the Bluejays got an offensive rebound, they made it count. Despite just seven offensive rebounds, Creighton got 11 second chance points. 

Creighton’s Christian Bishop was just as good — if not better — than the Bluejays perimeter players and eliminated the advantage Butler was supposed to have on the interior. Bishop had 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, he pulled down seven rebounds and dished out five assists. On the defensive end, he had four blocks and the steals. He was absolutely phenomenal for Greg McDermott’s team and was a major reason why this game wasn’t competitive. 

Creighton was always going to have the perimeter advantage, but they also found a way to capitalize on Butler mistakes and they had the best interior player on the floor today.

3. To make matters worse, Kamar Baldwin re-injured his ankle. 

Kamar Baldwin exited the game with 2:43 left in the first half. He limped off the court under his own power but took a seat at the end of the bench and never returned to the game. Entering the second half, Baldwin was the only Bulldog with more than four points and had previously gone on a personal 7-0 scoring run to keep Butler in striking distance. The Bulldogs trailed 34-19 when Baldwin left the game and it only got worse from there. At its largest, the Creighton lead was 35 points.

There has been a lot of discussion this season about how important Thompson is to this Butler team, and for good reason. With that being said, Baldwin is absolutely crucial on the offensive end because he is the only player on Butler’s roster who can consistently get his own shot. Yes, Thompson is crucial if this offense wants to operate at its highest level, and is a great facilitator. But it was painfully clear how much Butler needs Baldwin on the offensive end. The Bulldogs had 19 points when he exited the game, they finished with 59. In the second half, Butler was 14-of-36.

It’s unclear if Baldwin didn’t return to the game because he was physically unable to give it a go or if it was because Butler had no chance of winning the game after the first half. Regardless, the Bulldogs’ Big East schedule has been defined by key injuries and less than enthusiastic performances. Today was another one of those days. 

Oh, and to make matters even worse, Thompson left the court with under three minutes left in the game clutching his previously injured wrist. 

Final Thought

The Bulldogs have now lost eight of their last 12 games. At this point, a team that was once a 2-seed in most brackets is in danger of having to play a one or two seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. For the majority of this season, the Bulldogs have been much better than that, but the last month and a half has been tough on Butler.

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