Graduate student guard Eric Hunter Jr. dribbles down the court in Butler’s 75-65 win over Tiffin on Oct. 29. Hunter Jr. finished the game with 17 points. Photo by Claire Runkel.
MATTHEW CRANE | SPORTS CO-EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Butler men’s basketball team defeated Division II Tiffin 75-65 in their first exhibition game of the season. Sophomore guard Simas Lukosius led the Bulldogs with 20 points and three 3-pointers, and graduate student center Manny Bates contributed 16 points and eight rebounds.
All three of the other Butler starters — Chuck Harris, Myles Wilmoth and Jayden Taylor — scored at least five points to round out the scoring for the starting unit. Junior guard Myles Tate added four points and was the only player besides Lukosius to score off of the bench.
Ali Ali did not play due to a concussion he suffered in practice while John-Michael Mulloy was also unavailable as he deals with an ankle injury. Jalen Thomas remains out during his recovery from a pulmonary embolism.
With this being Butler’s first game since their summer European tour, it is time to go beyond the box score to see what can be assessed from the first exhibition game.
Hunter Jr. and Bates led the team in minutes and will continue to be counted on with the current roster configuration and injury situation. The pair looked confident in their first game together in front of the Hinkle crowd. After the opening tip-off, Hunter Jr. immediately found Bates to start off the scoring for the Dawgs. They will play a key role in how the offense flows throughout the season. Lukosius played the most minutes off the bench and talked about his approach to the second half after scoring three points in the first.
“I wouldn’t say my approach changed,” Lukosius said. Coach wasn’t happy with our play in the first half. I tried to stay aggressive and my shot fell and it worked out.”
Tate played the second most minutes off the bench and showed that he will be leaned on off the bench going forward.
Wilmoth got the nod with an undersized Tiffin frontcourt and added six rebounds. With Thomas and Ali out, Wilmoth will take on the majority of the frontcourt minutes, and even on nights like these with an uneven shooting performance, he finished with a plus/minus of 17 showing his valuable contribution on the defensive end of the floor.
The other two frontcourt players, DJ Hughes and Connor Turnbull played a combined 14 minutes. Hughes would be more likely to see any minutes when Ali or Thomas return to action. For the time being, expect Hughes to occasionally see time and Turnbull to get some brief minutes as he acclimates himself to the college game.
Taylor played the least minutes of any of the starters and when Ali comes back might cede starting duties to him. Taylor and Lukosius could form a potent duo scoring off the bench and be important pieces to a team that in years past has not had the highest-scoring bench units.
Once the full roster is available, expect to consistently see nine guys play with a possibility of ten playing depending on the opposing teams’ size and game flow.
Pace of Play
A sight that many Bulldog fans will rejoice from is a much quicker team that will get up and down the floor and try to push the pace. Last season, the Dawgs played a methodical game and did not have many possessions as they attempted to use the entire shot clock.
Hunter Jr. showed tonight that he was ready to be the catalyst of the offense and used his speed on the fastbreak to blow by the defense and get to the rim. The rest of the team was able to get down the floor and fill the lane and get to their spots and enjoyed a plethora of open shots.
After the game, Thad Matta discussed the pace and what he wants to see on the fastbreak from his guards.
“We want to play up-tempo,” Matta said. “We shot the ball and weren’t able to make them. Maybe it’s good for us to get out here and play in front of people and have that opportunity. We are going to shoot threes.”
With the pace sped up, Matta was unhappy with how the offense played after how strong it looked early on in the inside-out game that got the Dawgs rolling.
“That’s got to be who we are, “Matta said. “We want to play inside-out and I thought Manny got off to a really good start, but we didn’t get the inside-out game going the way we want. We need it to be effective offensively.”
The defense did not seem to be affected by the pace but potentially could have had tired legs as Tiffin shot the ball at a 50 percent clip from the field in the second half after shooting 34.5 percent in the first half. Overall, the intensity on defense was shown with five blocks on the night and six steals. Bates had two blocks and gave an early taste of what Bulldog fans can get accustomed to seeing with the big man patrolling the paint.
The concerning factor for the Bulldogs tonight was the shooting. At the 3-point line, the team shot 6-21 and at the free-throw line were 11-22.
To their credit, the majority of the missed shots came in the first half. In the second half, the team adjusted and shot 4-8 from three and 9-13 from the line. All night, the team had open shots but was unable to convert on them. This was the type of game that the team should have won by 20 points with the number of points they left at the free-throw line.
Last season, the Bulldogs shot 30.5 percent from three and 70 percent from the free throw line. This team should not replicate those numbers and should be shooting much better with the talent on the roster.
This is not something to be worried about in the long run and only something to monitor at the start of the season.
Overall, the Bulldogs should have positives from their performance in the game and certainly know what they need to improve on. Butler’s final exhibition game will be on Tuesday, Nov. 1 against Davenport University. The team should be ready to roll and after Tuesday night, Bulldog fans will be aware of what this team looks like heading into the start of the regular season on Nov. 7 against New Orleans.