Change. Change is a constant in our game. Each season a new group of incoming freshman become the next great hope to lead the program to one shining moment come March. As those freshman mature into seniors with one last chance at glory, the revolving door of college hoops in every evolving. This sort of change is not immune to just players. Rarely do you see the coaching lifers who spend some 20+ seasons at their school. It seems there are two paths for coaches at this level, turn success into a higher payday, usually at some BCS football school, or after failing to meet expectations, they will fade away and a new face with illusions of grandeur will be hired to get the program on track. A new season gives every school that chance for this to be that season that will be remembered by the faithful for years to come. With this as a backdrop, the national face of our game, the Butler Bulldogs travel to Evansville as both teams open the season.
For Evansville, this campaign is one of great change. The biggest and most obvious change is the move from Roberts Stadium to Ford Center, a new downtown arena with all the modern amenities the old barn simply did not offer. In addition, the face of the athletic program, Ace Purple got a makeover thanks to former player, 2011 grad Pieter von Tongeren. Gone is the all white tux and trademark cane, traded in for a new purple jacket and a bigger hat. In addition the expectations are much great, being voted 5th in the preseason as much of the scoring off last year's team returns, led by junior guard and 1st team All-Valley selection Colt Ryan.
For the Butler Bulldogs, gone are two of the familiar faces of the past Final Four runs as Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack are no longer donning the Butler blue. There is even talk of Detroit reigning supreme in the Horizon. Don't allow yourself to be fooled however as Butler found itself in the middle of last season and many of the pieces from last year's run are back with lock-down defender Ronald Nored leading the way along with two guys who emerged as the season and postseason run in Andrew Smith, Howard's heir-apparent and Khyle Marshall.
This game began as many opener do, a little disjointed and plagued by whistles. Both teams like to be physical on defense and it was clear that fouls were to play a large part. Players adjusted as they always seem to do and as play began to pick up a nice rhythm, Butler was able to spread the floor and knock down some 3's to take a small lead. As the half wound down, Andrew Smith showcased a new wrinkle in his game. With the shot clock just a few seconds inside the game clock, Smith buried a triple to give Butler the halftime lead at 37-28.
As games play out, fans tend to focus on that one missed call, that one bad break or bounce that ultimately determine the game. During the course of a game there are hundreds of what if's they could completely change the course of the game. As play began in the second half, Smith once again lined up a three, however this one spun half way down but did not fall. In the ensuing scrum for the rebound, Smith followed his shot too aggressively and found himself a seat on the bench picking up his fourth foul with over 16:00 to play.
All game long Evansville countered the absence of Smith by bringing in Lewis Jones. At only 6-3, Jones is an undersized player who thrives on the drive and plays bigger than his stature. Jones scored only 12 points on the day, yet he did everything he could to bring the Aces back from Butler's 13 point advantage. Jones put the Aces on his back, scoring 10 straight UE points with Smith in foul trouble, providing the spark UE needed to get back into the game. With about 7:00 to play, Kenneth Harris put UE up for the first time all half on a wide open 3. After Ronald Nored calmly answered with a triple of his own to regain the lead for the Bulldogs, the stage was set for quite an ending.
Over the final seven minutes, both Evansville and Butler had stretches where they would hold a one possession lead before Butler stretched it to 4 with 2:00 to play. UE fought back, cut it to 69-68 with :45 left. It was time to rise up and get a stop to set up one final shot for the victory. The Bulldogs ran the shot clock down as Nored dribbled alone at midcourt. Once BU got into their set, UE forced a turnover, a travel, and after the UE timeout, everyone knew it was time for Colt Ryan to get the ball. Ned Cox did all he could as Ryan worked off various screens but he just couldn't shake Nored. Cox dribbled towards the right baseline, backed down his defender and threw up a wild fadeaway that fell well short of the rim. Ryan found his way to the ball and a whistled halted play with :00.9 left. A push was called and the best free throw shooter in the Valley last season had two shots to win it for Evansville. Ryan missed the first but regrouped to hit the second and force an apparent overtime.
After the timeout BU isolated Andrew Smith just inside the free throw line. Emerson Kampen threw a baseball pass into the double team with Ryan in front and Jordan Jahr behind. Smith caught it, turned over his left shoulder and flipped up a shot before hitting the floor. As the horn was sounding the shot banked in off the glass and touched off a Butler celebration in the now quiet Ford Center. The officials went to the monitor, then huddled for a long period of time. After informing both coaches, a foul had been called prior to the shot on Jahr. The basket was waived off, game tied again at 69 and :00.2 was put back on the clock as Smith stepped to the line, the second player with under a second left with a chance to win it for his team.
It appeared as if a repeat of the NCAA Tournament vs Pittsburgh was in order for the Bulldogs. Smith stepped to the line and missed the first badly. The second was long as well and unthinkably, we were heading to overtime.
Overtime saw five minutes of hotly contested basketball. Neither team got a lead of more than one possession and Evansville led by one with a little over a minute to play. UE's Ryan drove to the rim but could not convert on the contested layup. After Smith corralled the rebound for Butler, Ryan came from seemingly nowhere to poke the ball away and this time convert on the layup to put UE up 3. UE remained up 3 after a stop defensively, yet turned the ball over on the Butler press. BU cut it to one and after two Ryan free throws, had one more chance to get back even and force a 2nd overtime. As time wound down, sophomore guard Chrishawn Hopkins, who led BU with 22 points, drove towards the rim. Realizing a three was needed, his panicked kick out found a UE player and Evansville held on for a wild 80-77 victory that resembled a mid February conference battle more than a mid November opener.
For Evansville change was positive. Just like last season, another 3 point OT victory over Butler. In addition,UE had fIve in double figures, led by Ryan's game high 23 as they look to reach the upper half of the Valley for the first time in a while. For Butler, the changing faces don't change the Butler Way. These Bulldogs have a lot to live up to after the last two magical runs, yet they seem to find their way and may have found a new perimeter threat in Chrishawn Hopkins. A new era of Evansville basketball was capped off a the Ford Center in a thrilling victory for the Purple Aces. As the fans filed out, there were two main questions on the minds of the fans. What exactly happened at the end of regulation as well as if Ryan had established himself back in bounds on that steal with just over a minute left. Regardless of those questions, after one game it appears Evansville passed its first test while Butler can look at a couple big missed free throws and what might have been.
at EVANSVILLE 80, BUTLER 77 11/12/2011
BUTLER 0-1 (0-0) -- C. Hopkins 8-19 3-4 22; C. Stigall 1-4 2-3 4; R. Nored 2-6 1-2 6; K. Marshall 3-4 0-0 6; J. Aldridge 3-7 0-0 7; A. Smith 6-8 7-12 21; G. Butcher 2-4 2-3 6; E. Fromm 2-5 0-0 5; A. Smeathers 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 15-24 77. EVANSVILLE 1-0 (0-0) -- C. Ryan 4-15 14-18 23; D. Holmes 4-6 6-7 15; N. Cox 1-8 1-2 3; K. Harris 2-4 5-8 10; J. Jahr 5-7 2-2 15; T. Taylor 0-0 2-2 2; M. Peeler 0-3 0-2 0; L. Jones 5-8 2-2 12; R. Cesnulevicius 0-0 0-0 0; R. Sawvell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-51 32-43 80.
Three-point goals: BUTL 8-24 (G. Butcher 0-1; R. Nored 1-3; C. Stigall 0-3; A. Smith 2-3; E. Fromm 1-2; C. Hopkins 3-8; A. Smeathers 0-1; J. Aldridge 1-3), EVAN 6-14 (D. Holmes 1-1; L. Jones 0-1; C. Ryan 1-3; N. Cox 0-3; J. Jahr 3-5; K. Harris 1-1); Rebounds: BUTL 31 (A. Smith 9), EVAN 27 (C. Ryan 7); Assists: BUTL 16 (C. Hopkins 5), EVAN 9 (D. Holmes 3); Total Fouls -- BUTL 29, EVAN 25; Fouled Out: BUTL-C. Stigall; EVAN-M. Peeler.