Butler vs. DePaul: Beyond the box score

Bryce Nze finishes a layup in Butler’s loss to Xavier at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 30. Nze set a new Butler high with 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting in Butler’s 68-58 win over DePaul on Feb. 6. Photo by Zach Bolinger.

HENRY BREDEMEIER | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR | hbredeme@butler.edu

In what seems like tradition for the Butler men’s basketball team, they found themselves down double-digits early in the game to DePaul. But, in classic Bulldog fashion, they started to play like they are capable of for the last 30 minutes of the game, and completed the season sweep over DePaul, 68-58, on Feb. 6 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler improves to 6-10 overall and 5-8 in the Big East.

The Bulldogs started the game off well; Aaron Thompson got a steal on DePaul’s first possession and on the other end of the floor, threw an alley-oop to Bryce Nze to give Butler an early lead. Butler had two more stops to start the game, but the offense stalled. With ten minutes played in the first half, Butler fell behind 18-6. They couldn’t buy a bucket. Then, freshman Chuck Harris hit a three-pointer, and a couple possessions later, Bryce Nze hit a three of his own. This offensive surge was a sign of things to come.

Harris, Nze, and Bryce Golden sparked a huge Butler scoring run over the back end of the first half, and Butler found themselves with a narrow halftime lead. Harris had half of Butler’s 30 first half points. Butler didn’t look back, and won the game 68-58 to snap their three-game losing streak.

1. Stating the obvious: Chuck Harris is great off the bench

Harris was awesome in this game. Butler’s offense struggled in the first ten minutes of the game, and if it wasn’t for the spark that Harris brought off the bench, who knows if the offense could have gotten going. Harris hit three three-pointers over a six minute stretch in the first half, the last one cutting a once 12-point Depaul lead to a single possession. Not only did he get Butler back into the game, he iced it at the end at the free throw line. He went 8/9 from the line, a shot Butler has struggled with massively throughout this season. He finished the game with 22 points, matching his career-high. He scored all but one of Butler’s bench points. He has established himself as the sixth man of the team, and is staking his claim to be a regular starter.

After the game, head coach LaVall Jordan said he likes the energy Harris brings off the bench. Harris is an aggressive scorer, and coming off the bench allows him to be aggressive from the moment he steps on the floor. It has been a mental adjustment for Harris to come off the bench after starting earlier this season when Thompson missed time, but that experience has allowed Harris to get his feet under him and makes him that much more dangerous off the bench. Harris said his coaches told him to embrace the role of coming off the bench, and after watching today’s performance, it seems like he has done just that.

2. Bryce Nze: The knockdown three-point shooter

Over the course of his Butler career, we have seen flashes of Nze’s ability to shoot the long ball.  Nze transformed himself from a practical non-shooter as a junior — shooting five three-pointers, of which he sunk two — to a respectable one — making eight out of 21 from deep this season. Today, he took it to another level, starting the game 3/3 from behind the arc. On top of that, he looked confident shooting those shots. They weren’t fluke makes, these are good shots for him to be taking and he and the coaching staff are clearly comfortable with him doing so. Nze knocking down three-pointers consistently is great for Butler; it will open up space in the paint because opponents will have to respect him when he is standing outside of the line. This clears up space for the likes of Bo Hodges, who is a menace driving to the paint and has a knack for grabbing rebounds, both offensive and defensive. Nze wasn’t just hitting threes today; he was a consistent problem for DePaul’s defense, and scored a Butler career high 22 points on an incredibly efficient 6/8 from the field. Nze’s offensive game is expanding, and that should leave opponents shaking in their boots.

3. Getting to the free throw line means good things happen

Butler has been poor from the free throw line this season, both getting there and hitting the shots once they do. Coming into today’s game, Butler ranked ninth in the Big East in free throw attempts per game with 15.7, and ranked dead last in free throw percentage, shooting an abysmal 60.4 percent from the line. Today, they were more aggressive, took advantage of some sloppy defense from DePaul, and shot a total of 36 times from the line. They made 66.7 percent of those shots, which still is not very good, but an improvement nonetheless. Getting to the free throw line is the easiest way to score in basketball. The Bulldogs should emphasize getting to the line more. Under LaVall Jordan, Butler is now 36-7 when they attempt more free throws than their opponent, a winning percentage of above 83 percent. When they attempt fewer free throws? They are 23-42, a winning percentage of just above 35 percent. Good things happen when the Bulldogs get free shots.

Final thought

This was a big win for Butler, as they moved towards the middle of the pack in the Big East, and left DePaul as the lone cellar dweller. Butler was imperfect today, but they did what they needed to do. They limited turnovers against the best team in the Big East at forcing them. They shot at 40 percent from beyond the arc, and held DePaul to under 40 from the field. They got to the free throw line and hit enough of them to get the win. The Bulldogs cannot be satisfied with this though, and must take the momentum into their next game versus the red hot St. John’s Red Storm. They have a quick turnaround, as St. John’s comes to Hinkle this Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 9 p.m.

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