Butler vs. Providence: Beyond the box score

Kamar Baldwin brings the ball up the court. Baldwin finished with 15 points in the loss. Jimmy Lafakis/Collegian file photo. 

JOSHUA DOERING | SPORTS EDITOR | jdoering@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team finished the regular season with an 83-70 loss at Providence on March 9, dropping the Bulldogs to 16-15 overall and 7-11 in Big East play. Butler won the second half by eight but never seriously endangered Providence’s lead. Here are three takeaways from a frustrating defeat.

1. Butler played like this game didn’t matter.

Butler’s defense was non-existent for all intents and purposes. It took 28 minutes for Providence to hit the 67-point mark, more than the Bulldogs gave up in the full 40 minutes in their win over Xavier on March 5. There were missed assignments and late rotations all over the place in the first half. The Friars’ offensive execution was fantastic but no team hits eight of its first 12 3-pointers and drops 48 points in 20 minutes without the aid of poor defense. Everything Butler did so well on that end of the floor its last time out was nowhere to be found.

To compound the issue further, Providence won the rebounding battle by 15, owned an 11-5 advantage in fastbreak points and turned nine Butler turnovers into 10 points. Plus, Butler’s bench got outscored by four and the Bulldogs only connected on five of their 16 2-point field goal attempts in the first half. Butler played better after halftime but failed to put together a complete 40 minutes yet again.

2. Sean McDermott needs to rediscover his stroke. 

In his last four games, Sean McDermott has scored a total of 18 points while going 2-of-17 from three. McDermott — a career 41 percent 3-point shooter — is in such an extreme slump that he’s started passing up quality looks from behind the arc in favor of driving to the basket, certainly not a strength of his game. Partly because of McDermott’s individual struggles, Butler has not shot better than 33 percent from three as a team since Feb. 16. Over that stretch, the Bulldogs have connected on 27 of their 100 3-point attempts. 

When Butler isn’t shooting the ball well, Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson’s jobs become much more difficult. Teams can collapse their defense and focus on stopping penetration. The result is a situation where Thompson makes a single field goal and only records four assists in 43 minutes on the floor over the past two games. If Butler isn’t making threes, Thompson offers very little on the offensive end of the floor. The Bulldogs aren’t making a run in New York unless McDermott finds his stroke.

3. The Big East Tournament offers a fresh start.

The beautiful thing about conference tournaments is that regular season results mean absolutely nothing. As awful as the Butler looked in this game and as disappointing as the regular season was, reeling off four straight wins is not inconceivable. Extremely unlikely, yes, but not out of the question. A win or two would also go a long way toward ensuring the Bulldogs get invited to a postseason tournament.

Another benefit of this trip to Madison Square Garden is an opportunity to start building momentum and confidence heading into next season. The Bulldogs return five of their six leading scorers as well as their top two assist men. Closing the season with some sort of success — be it in New York or a postseason tournament — would help erase the frustrations of the way things have gone so far. That process starts with the game on March 13. 

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