Butler vs Creighton: Beyond the Box Score

Freshman Chuck Harris steps back versus Georgetown in a game earlier this season on Jan. 6. Harris dropped a career-high 29 points in a loss to No. 14 Creighton on March 6. Photo by Zach Bolinger.

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

The Butler men’s basketball team lost the final game of the regular season to No. 14 Creighton, by a final score of 93-73. It is the most points the Bulldogs have allowed this season, and the most points allowed by Butler since Feb. 6, 2018, in an overtime loss to Xavier. The Bulldogs drop to 9-14 on the season, and 1-9 on the road.

This was the worst defensive performance from the Bulldogs all season, but it is somewhat excusable with Aaron Thompson and Bo Hodges out, and Bryce Nze leaving the game early with an injury. Creighton shot lights out this game as well, something that Butler did not replicate. The Bulldogs shot just 5-26 from beyond the arc, good for a 19% conversion rate, and were just 2-16 from deep if you don’t include Chuck Harris.

We go beyond the box score in Butler’s last game before the Big East tournament. 

1. Lack of depth was fatal for Butler

The Bulldogs came into the game with the knowledge that senior guard Aaron Thompson would be out for the remainder of the season. On top of that, senior Bo Hodges was dealing with soreness and sat out the first half with the hope to play in the second, but he never felt well enough to enter the game. Without these two key starters, Butler started three guards Chuck Harris, Jair Bolden and Myles Tate along with both Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden. This is by no means a weak starting lineup as all players have started at least 10 games this season, but it severely limited options off the bench.

To make matters worse, Nze landed awkwardly on his right ankle with seven minutes to play in the first half. He was clearly in pain and had to be helped off the floor, and did not return for the rest of the game. Immediately after he left, his absence was felt. The Bulldogs looked lost defensively the rest of the half, leaving shooters wide open and allowing easy buckets down low on clear miscommunications. A game that was just a seven-point deficit for Butler when Nze left, quickly doubled by halftime as Butler trailed 46-32. Those 46 points at halftime were the most Butler has allowed in a half this season. That is, until they allowed 47 points in the second half.

The problem off the bench was even more clear in the second half, when Tate picked up his fourth foul eight minutes into the half, and walk-on Campbell Donovan the only other active guard on the roster played significant minutes down the stretch in a game that Butler theoretically could have fought back in. No disrespect to Donovan, who embodies what the Bulldog program is about with his effort and perseverance, but there is a clear problem when he is playing important minutes down the stretch versus a ranked team. 

After the game, head coach LaVall Jordan said Nze would be evaluated for his ankle injury and was not sure how serious it is. If Nze has to miss the Big East Tournament, it could easily mean an early exit for the Bulldogs.

2. Credit to Creighton and Marcus Zegarowski

In case you missed it, long-time Creighton head coach Greg McDermott was suspended for the rest of the season after racially insensitive comments following the team’s loss to Xavier on Feb. 27. It cannot be easy to deal with the controversy surrounding the head coach of your program, but the Creighton players did not let that phase them on the court. If anything, it may have motivated them. 

The Blue Jays were fantastic tonight, scoring over 90 points for the sixth time this season, the first time they have done so in nearly two months. They shot 52.4% from the field and hit an impressive 48% of their 25 3-point attempts. They took care of the ball too, only turning the ball over seven times, and played excellent team basketball, racking up 20 assists on 33 field goals.

The star of the show was undoubtedly junior guard Marcus Zegarowski. He dropped a season-high 32 points, tying his career-high, on just 12 shots. This type of efficiency is hard to match, as he shot 10-12 from the field and 5-7 from deep. Although he couldn’t miss tonight, part of the blame needs to go on Butler’s defense for letting him get open looks throughout the game. He hit his shots, but no one scores 32 points on 12 shots against lock down defense.

3. Chuck Harris just keeps shining

This was an ugly loss for Butler, but Harris was incredible yet again. He scored 29 points, a career-high, and Butler’s highest scoring individual game this season by seven points (Harris scored 22 points twice this season). He scored efficiently too, shooting 10-18 from the field and 3-8 from deep, adding six rebounds and four assists to round out his complete day.

Harris is the first Butler freshman in 40 years to lead the team in scoring through the season, a testament to how good he has been throughout the year, and also how much the team has needed him. He has gained confidence through the season, and no one should be surprised by his scoring outburst tonight because he has been doing this all year. Harris is the future of the program, and despite his youth, he is already carrying on the legacy of the number three shirt that Kamar Baldwin made famous.

Final Thought

The Big East Tournament tips off Wednesday, March 10, at Madison Square Garden. As of now, Butler is the No. 9 seed and would play No. 8 Georgetown in the first round. However, if Marquette beats Xavier tonight which tips off at 9 p.m. Marquette would jump Butler, and the Bulldogs would play Xavier in the No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup. 

Regardless of who Butler plays, they have their own issues to deal with. They won’t beat anyone with the defensive performance they had tonight, unless the offense can muster 100 points. However, if Nze and Hodges are able to return, the Bulldogs have beaten the top two teams in the Big East this season, so a Cinderella run for a Big East Championship and an automatic NCAA Tournament isn’t completely out of the question. 

Whether they open the tournament versus Georgetown or Xavier, Butler will be back in action on March 10 with a Big East title on their minds.

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