Twice upon a time, a time not long ago, a team from below the red line made great marches throughout the NCAA Tournament. Those occasions were filled with a number of great moments for Butler fans - a tipped pass against Murray State; a favorable carom high off the rim on a three-point shot from the corner against Syracuse; a defensive rebound off an intentionally missed free throw against Michigan State; a frenzied put-back from a last-second offensive rebound against Old Dominion; a pair of "wait, that was a foul?!!!" reactions against Pittsburgh; a three-pointer from a seldom-used freshman to help dethrone nemesis Florida; and the slightly bittersweet realization of having vanquished our kindred spirits from VCU. Sadly, both seasons ultimately ended in a loss. However, during those times, we were able to dream big dreams - ones that very nearly came true. I, for one, will never forget those unique experiences! On this night, the home opener of a new season, Butler fans gathered to celebrate the unveiling of a new banner to commemorate the 2011 tournament achievements. This new banner was hung next to the one from 2010. During the celebration, I took some time to reflect on all of the moments from both years. We were fortunate to experience this journey once, much less twice, but time invariably moves on, and a new season is upon us.
"I said there was but one solitary thing about the past worth remembering and that was the fact that it is past and can't be restored." - Mark Twain
Butler's current squad is very young and relatively inexperienced, so we will likely have several instances throughout the season when we wish we could restore the past. Still, these young Dawgs possess an intriguing amount of potential. I just hope a rigorous pre-conference schedule doesn't overwhelm them too much before the calendar turns to 2012. Tonight's opponent was the Chattanooga Mocs, a perennial power in the Southern Conference's North Division. The Mocs feature a roster heavy on upperclassmen, led by 6-5 senior Omar Wattad, the consensus pre-season choice for SoCon player of the year. With Butler coming off a season opening loss at Evansville, there was some pressure felt to get into the win column, especially with a weekend visit from top ten ranked Louisville looming. The first half was tightly contested, with Butler generally maintaining a small lead. Chrishawn Hopkins and Khyle Marshall combined for 19 first half points for Butler, while Chris Early and Drazen Zlovaric each got some relatively easy baskets for Chattanooga. Through most of the first half though, I thought Wattad seemed to be the best player on the floor. In the first 12 minutes of action, Wattad was 3-4 from the field, with seven points total, and I got the sense that he could take control of the game whenever he wanted. Butler's defense stepped up though, and kept Wattad under control for the rest of the half. The first half highlight was provided by Butler freshman Kameron Woods, who blocked a shot and grabbed the ball in mid-air, all in a single motion. Words cannot adequately describe the beauty of that defensive play. Butler led 28-27 at the half, and the second stanza further highlighted the defense. Over a stretch of ten and a half minutes, Butler was held to one basket and two free throws, while Chattanooga could manage only four free throws. Hopkins and Marshall, our first half heroes, combined for just a single point in the second half. Meanwhile, Ronald Nored and Chase Stigall, each held scoreless in the first half, combined for 15 points in the second half. Only junior center Andrew Smith managed some degree of offensive consistency throughout, totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds on the evening. As for Wattad, his strong start was followed by one-for-seven shooting the rest of the way, and he finished with just ten points. Butler did a nice job of keeping a fresh defender on him, and he didn't find many good looks at the basket over the final 28 minutes of play. After this sort of early-season contest, we have to wonder if we've witnessed spectacular defense or very subpar offense. That answer likely will emerge in the games to follow for both teams. I left Hinkle Fieldhouse recalling the words of an old coach of mine, "offense will come and go, but defense needs to be a constant". I was encouraged that the young Bulldogs put forth such a strong defensive effort on this night, and look forward to their growth over the rest of the season.
Thinking back to Mr. Twain, he was right about the past, of course - it can't be restored. Regardless, I hope the old fellow would not look down upon us for at least wanting to remember our great moments from the past. We've all learned that this game can hurt you (or, on nights like this, make you ache a little bit), but our memories of these moments are much of what we rely on to make following our game worthwhile. As the 2011-12 season begins, I hope all of you get a chance to dream big this season, and to experience some special moments of your own to recall for years to come.
at BUTLER 57, CHATTANOOGA 46 11/15/2011
CHATTANOOGA 0-2 (0-0) -- O. Wattad 4-11 0-0 10; D. Zlovaric 4-8 0-0 8; K. Bell 1-4 2-2 4; R. Taylor 3-6 7-9 13; J. Burroughs 0-2 0-0 0; C. Early 4-6 0-2 8; Z. Mason 0-2 2-4 2; R. White 0-1 0-0 0; D. Hampton 0-3 0-0 0; L. Stokes 0-0 1-2 1; J. Bryant 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-44 12-19 46. BUTLER 1-1 (0-0) -- C. Hopkins 4-17 1-2 12; A. Smith 5-8 5-7 16; C. Stigall 3-10 0-0 7; R. Nored 2-5 3-4 8; K. Marshall 3-3 2-5 8; K. Woods 2-4 0-1 4; R. Jones 1-4 0-0 2; J. Aldridge 0-3 0-0 0; G. Butcher 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-0 0-0 0; E. Fromm 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-54 11-19 57.
Three-point goals: CHAT 2-14 (K. Bell 0-3; O. Wattad 2-7; D. Hampton 0-2; R. Taylor 0-1; Z. Mason 0-1), BUTL 6-22 (R. Nored 1-1; C. Stigall 1-7; A. Smith 1-2; C. Hopkins 3-10; K. Woods 0-2); Rebounds: CHAT 27 (D. Zlovaric 7), BUTL 33 (A. Smith 10); Assists: CHAT 10 (K. Bell 6), BUTL 14 (R. Nored 5); Total Fouls -- CHAT 19, BUTL 21; Fouled Out: CHAT-C. Early; BUTL-None.