Butler vs. Providence: Beyond the box score

Sean McDermott dribbles the ball against Providence on Feb. 1. McDermott finished with 10 points but was just 0-of-2 from beyond the arc. Photo by Donald Crocker. 

JOSH MULLENIX | SPORTS EDITOR | jmulleni@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team missed a chance to close the gap between themselves and the top of the Big East standings today losing to the Providence Friars 65-61 inside Hinkle Fieldhouse. Despite a much better offensive second half, the Bulldogs were never able to get over the hump in the second frame. Timely free throws and a questionable call or two secured the victory for the Friars in the final minutes.

All five Butler starters finished in double figures led by Kamar Baldwin who scored 12 points in the second half after no field goals in the first 20 minutes. However, the Bulldogs got just one point off of the bench coming by way of a free throw from Derrik Smits in the first half. 

Luwane Pipkins finished the game with 22 points. All four of his field goals came from beyond the arc and he tacked on 10 free throws on 10 attempts — he’s only missed one all year — and was the guy who sealed the game from the line late. 

The Bulldogs did some good things in this game. Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden both finished with 12 points. The defense held Providence to just 40% shooting and 30% from beyond the arc, but the offense wasn’t there to the extent that it needed to be. 

Let’s go beyond the box score of a missed opportunity to gain ground in the conference, and probably the worst loss of Butler’s season.

1. The absence of Aaron Thompson was felt in this one.

To be clear, the absence of Aaron Thompson has been felt in each of the three games that he’s missed, but it was really felt this afternoon. In the last two games, the Bulldogs were bailed out. Kamar Baldwin scored 23 of Butler’s last 33 against Marquette and Butler just couldn’t miss in the second half at Georgetown. 

Tonight, they didn’t get either of those things and the absence of Thompson was obvious. His absence sets off a chain of reactions. When he’s not in the game, Baldwin is forced to be a facilitator while also being asked to score at a high level. It’s much easier to do one thing really well than it is to do two things at a solid level. Tonight, Baldwin played fine. He had 14 points, five rebounds and five assists. But when that’s the production he brings and you don’t have the production from Thompson, things get much more difficult. 

If it isn’t Baldwin facilitating, there isn’t really anyone else on the floor to pick up the slack. Yes, Golden and Nze had some nice high-low action going on in the interior, but the lack of another playmaker and ball handler on the perimeter really hurt Butler’s ability to get good shots — especially from beyond the arc. 

On the defensive end, Pipkins really hurt the Bulldogs. He was just 4-of-10 from the field but shot 10 free throws which were an automatic 10 points with his level of foul shooting. He knocked down four threes, quadrupling Butler’s total as a team and the Bulldogs couldn’t contain him late in the game and prevent him from going to the charity stripe. 

Nothing spectacular happened for Butler against the Friars, and when that doesn’t happen, the absence of Thompson is painfully obvious.

2. “Our whole preparation was no threes, tough twos.” 

The Bulldogs were 1-of-14 from beyond the arc, and it wasn’t because they were just missing open looks. It was because they weren’t getting any. And that’s a credit to Providence’s defense. Without Thompson, it’s much more difficult for Butler to get open looks, and the way the Friars prepared for this game made it even more difficult.

In the post-game press conference Providence head coach Ed Cooley said, “Our whole preparation was no threes, tough twos.” Essentially, Cooley was fine with Butler scoring all of the 2-point field goals they wanted, he just didn’t want to give up any deep looks. 

Through switching everything and running Butler off of the 3-point line, the Friars turned everyone, including Jordan Tucker and Sean McDermott, into dribblers and drivers forcing them to make twos and go to the foul line. The thing is, Butler did a good job taking what the defense gave them and getting to the stripe — they took 31 free throws, making 24 of them. 

On top of that, the Bulldogs were 17-of-31, 54% from inside the arc. They made their 2-point attempts at a solid rate. 

After a rough first half in the defensive rebounding and turnovers category, the Bulldogs had a much better second half, winning the second-chance points battle by six, only turning the ball over five times and getting 12 points off of those turnovers to Providence’s four. The defense wasn’t horrible, but it could have been better. The Bulldogs shot the same percentage from the field, knocked down more free throws and one the interior battle — in terms of rebounds and points in the paint. 

But they really didn’t shoot it well. Props to Cooley and the Providence defense for doing what they came to Hinkle Fieldhouse to do: no threes, tough twos.

3. Butler got one point off the bench.

This returns to the void that Thompson leaves just a little bit and the chain reaction that follows. Jordan Tucker is typically the spark off of the bench, but with him in the starting lineup someone else must step up in some way to provide production. 

The Bulldogs got exactly one point off the bench — to Providence’s 27. Smits, Henry Baddley and Khalif Battle combined to go 0-of-5 from the field and the three of them committed seven fouls. Despite playing the two lowest minute totals in the game, Battle and Smits had the two worst plus/minus numbers for the Bulldogs in just 18 combined minutes of action.

Does Butler’s bench need to come in and be dominantly offensively? No. Are they skinny right now due to the injuries of Christian David and Aaron Thompson? Yes. But with that being said, the reserves for Butler have to find a way to provide some sort of production and spark to keep this team moving while Thompson is injured. 

Baddley did a phenomenal job of it against Marquette, it was his best game of the season by far. And the bench provided 10 points and nine rebounds against Georgetown. In their first two tries without Thompson, the production and impact was felt, but tonight the production was coming from the five starters for Butler, or not at all.

Final Thought

The Big Ten gets most of the hype for being the conference that puts teams in the gauntlet night in and night out. The Big East needs some of that love. Entering Saturday, the conference’s three ranked teams — Butler, Villanova and Seton Hall — all had home games against multi-loss Big East teams and all three lost. Frankly, the Butler game was the most competitive of the three. The point is there are no easy nights in this conference and the conference’s best teams were reminded of that today. 

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