Butler vs. Xavier: Beyond the box score

Paul Jorgensen chases after a loose ball against Nothern Illinois. Jorgensen scored 14 points in the loss. Jimmy Lafakis/Collegian file photo. 

JOSHUA DOERING | SPORTS EDITOR | jdoering@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team dropped to 1-3 in Big East play with a 70-69 loss at Xavier. Butler coughed up an eight-point lead in the game’s final 3:44 and scored five of the final 21 points. Here are three takeaways from a crushing defeat.

1. Butler’s bench was excellent again. 

The Bulldogs’ starters scored a total of 12 points in the first half, yet Butler held a 31-26 lead at the break thanks to its reserves. Butler’s bench outscored Xavier’s 19-0 in the opening 20 minutes and 30-3 in the game. Paul Jorgensen and Jordan Tucker also accounted for six of the Bulldogs’ nine 3-pointers. With only one starter reaching double-figures, Butler desperately needed its bench to pick up the slack. Led by Jorgensen’s 14 points, it did just that.

Especially until Kamar Baldwin breaks out of his slump and puts together multiple efficient games in a row, the Bulldogs will need their bench to keep producing the way they did against the Musketeers. With so little separation between teams in the Big East this season, an explosion from one or two key reserves can turn a loss into a win. Having the likes of Tucker and Jorgensen available to come in and provide a spark is a massive advantage. They showed just how much of an impact they can have in this game.

2. The Bulldogs need more from their bigs on both ends. 

Butler managed to get outrebounded 40-29 despite shooting eight percent better from the field, which is incredibly concerning. Joey Brunk, Nate Fowler and Bryce Golden didn’t contribute a single point in the first half and finished with a total of seven, all from Brunk. Meanwhile, Xavier got 18 points and 13 rebounds from the duo of Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones. Butler only allowed 26 points in the paint but gave up 17 offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points. Those extra possessions kept the Musketeers in the game and eventually allowed them to rally.

Aside from Xavier’s 25-12 advantage in free throw attempts, the interior was the only other area where the Bulldogs got outplayed. This team is still only going as far as its guards can take it, but the Bulldogs aren’t getting where they want to without some production from their bigs. Seven points from Brunk and Fowler in 40 minutes isn’t going to cut it. They don’t need to be great every game, but they have to capitalize on their opportunities and offer at least some resistance on defense. No team can win on a regular basis without some sort of post presence.

3. Butler has to learn how to win on the road. 

The Bulldogs threw this game away, end of story. They did everything necessary to get their first road victory until they fell apart and failed to execute on either end of the floor down the stretch. Butler’s lack of composure in the game’s final possessions is representative of its struggles away from Hinkle. Winning Big East games on the road requires a mental toughness the Bulldogs don’t have right now. Playing 36 minutes of solid basketball isn’t enough.

Any scenario in which Butler makes the NCAA Tournament will require the Bulldogs to win a minimum of two Big East road games, assuming they’re perfect at home the rest of the season. Realistically, Butler probably needs at least three victories on the road. Every plausible path to March Madness starts with a win over DePaul in Chicago. The Bulldogs can’t afford to let another winnable road contest slip through their fingers.

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