Butler vs. Xavier: Beyond the box score

Butler huddles as a team during a game against Xavier on Feb. 12. All eight Butler players to see the floor scored against the Musketeers. Photo by Chandler Hart.

JOSH MULLENIX | SPORTS EDITOR | jmulleni@butler.edu 

Despite a head injury to Aaron Thompson early in the second half, the Butler men’s basketball team defeated the Xavier Musketeers 66-61 on a snowy night in Indianapolis. With the win, the Bulldogs move to 19-6 on the season and 7-5 in Big East play. 

Butler got production from all eight players that stepped on the floor tonight. All eight players scored at least four points and the bench outscored Xavier’s bench 23-6. Three players — Sean McDermott, Kamar Baldwin and Jordan Tucker — finished in double figures and two other players finished with eight or more. 

Tyrique Jones and Naji Marshall were responsible for the majority of Xavier’s offensive production. Jones recorded yet another double-double scoring 19 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. However, his production, specifically on the glass, wasn’t where it had been during Xavier’s three-game win streak thanks to Butler’s interior players.

Marshall got it going late. He had only two points on 1-of-3 shooting in the first half but finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Things didn’t go well offensively after that for the Musketeers. The rest of Xavier’s players finished 9-of-32 from the floor for just 22 points. 

After Thompson went down early in the second half, the Musketeers went on a pair of runs but were never able to completely eliminate a lead that was as high as 17 with 16:19 left in the game. 

We go beyond the box score.

1. We were reminded just how important Aaron Thompson is.

I’m not going to beat this to death again, but the Bulldogs were immediately reminded how important Thompson is on both ends of the floor when he went down. The Musketeers went on an 11-0 run following Thompson’s exit. They began full court pressing trying to speed up a Butler team that was without its primary ball handler and best decision maker. 

Xavier head coach Travis Steele said it wasn’t a coincidence that they ramped up the pressure when Butler was without the junior point guard.

“When you lose a great decision maker…we’re going to try to heat them up a little bit,” Steele said. “We’re gonna try to press try to make someone else handle the ball not just Kamar.” 

The Bulldogs did a fine job breaking the press when it was presented to them but it’s clear the impact Thompson has on this team.

In this particular game, Butler made their shots down the stretch. Each time the Musketeers were threatening to overtake the lead, the Bulldogs made a big shot. Whether it was Tucker or Baldwin or someone else, Butler kept the Musketeers at arm’s length by knocking down clutch shots.

And they had to, because that’s what it takes to win without Thompson on the floor. Butler’s offense and defense has a lower ceiling — and a lower mean — during his absences. The Bulldogs have to find ways to survive without him. Tonight, they did. 

2. Not just eating up minutes, but being productive is crucial for Butler.

It’s official: this has been a tough season when it comes to the health of Butler. From Baldwin’s rib injury early in the season, to Christian David’s ACL tear and Thompson not catching a break, Butler has had to depend on pretty much every player on the roster in one sense or another.

And they haven’t just depended on players to eat up garbage time until others can get back on the floor. Head coach LaVall Jordan and his coaching staff have depended on players to come in and produce. 

Tonight, there was production from all eight players to see the floor. Every player had more than one field goal. One of the players to only have four points was Bryce Golden who led the team in +/-, grabbed five rebounds and was a part of making Jones work for every bucket he got. Henry Baddley knocked down three trifectas in the first half after making just four all season — and he did it on 100% shooting. Tucker had all 10 of his points in the second half and was crucial in keeping the Musketeers away from the lead.

It is unclear if Thompson will miss any more games and coach Jordan had little to say about the status of Smits as well. But if it does happen, Butler will need every player to touch the floor to be productive, not just eat up minutes. 23 bench points and every player having an impact is a good bar to set.

3. Sean McDermott is so much better when aggressive early on.

McDermott finished with 14 points, six rebounds and one assist. He was 4-of-9 from the floor and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc. A solid game? Yes. A great one? No. But what he did do was put pressure on the Xavier defense early and he was noticeably more aggressive out of the gates.

In the first four minutes, McDermott had already taken two shots — and it could have easily been four — and knocked down a three. He took four three throws in the game and made all of them. He shot the ball without hesitation early and got to the front of the rim showing off some of that expanded game he has established this season.

It wasn’t a spectacular game from McDermott, but getting him involved early is crucial for the success of the Butler offense. It gets a shooter going early, which is never a bad thing and then opens up the rest of the floor for the Bulldogs. Nze and Golden have room to operate and Thompson and Baldwin have room to get to the bucket as well. When McDermott is clearly involved in the offense, it makes the Bulldogs much harder to guard and Butler is just a better team when he is an effective secondary option behind Baldwin. 

Final Thought

Xavier has only shot less than 15 free throws once in the seven games leading up to tonight’s matchup. Not only did Butler shoot more free throws than the Musketeers — 13 to Xavier’s 11 — but they also made one more free throw on the night. The Bulldogs did a good job, for the most part, defending without fouling against a team that is more athletic than them at multiple positions.

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