I entered Hinkle Fieldhouse to find a nearly funeral atmosphere Tuesday night for the first round of the Horizon League tournament, or as it now seems to be known, the Horizon League Tournament Sponsored By Walt Disney Studios' Epic Film "John Carter" ("HLTSBWDSEFJC"). Butler was hosting rival Wright State, but something was missing. Fans. Wright State can typically be counted on to provide at least a couple of buses filled with rowdy supporters, but they did not arrive on this night. Neither did hundreds of Butler fans. I don't have a good explanation for this apathy, but it was apparent well before tip-off that it would not be a good turnout. I would have asked some of the people who sit in the row in front of me why the crowd was so sparse, but none of them were there either. Apparently, some of Butler's fans felt that the season ended with Friday night's disappointing loss at Valparaiso. The attendance of 4,042 represented about 3,000 less than Butler's average attendance for the season.
The team seemed similarly uninspired in the game's early moments. The Raiders took advantage of a Butler defensive lapse, and freshman Kendall Griffin drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to give them a 7-4 lead at the first media timeout. The Dawgs' offense remained stagnant for the next several minutes, but Wright State could create no margin, as an inordinate number of its shots seemed to slam into the outstretched hand of Butler freshman Kameron Woods. Woods had four blocked shots in the first half, and his defense and rebounding, along with a bit of offense from Ronald Nored, provided enough of a spark to keep his team competitive. Chrishawn Hopkins added a few baskets later in the first half, and Butler reached the break with a one-point lead. From the perspective of this observer, the Bulldogs were fortunate to have avoided a deficit.
What goes into a halftime speech in the locker room for a team facing elimination? For some coaches, a fiery, motivational speech will get the players pumped up and ready to run through a wall. For others, an extensive analysis of tactics and strategies will correct the first half's errors and improve the team's chances for victory. I'm not sure what Brad Stevens' approach is in these situations, but during halftimes after less-than-stellar first halves, I often recall a tale from the young coach's first season at Butler. At a home game against Ohio State in which his team missed its first fifteen 3-point shots and entered the break with a ten-point deficit, Stevens had his players shoot paper wads into a trash can in an attempt to restore their confidence. Amazingly, Butler hit 8-of-14 from long range in the second half and rolled to a 19-point win.
I don't think there were any reams of paper harmed during this halftime break, but there was a significant change in the team's energy once play resumed. Butler opened the second half with a 13-0 run, and Wright State really never threatened thereafter. The Bulldogs did a good job of containing Julius Mays, one of the more prolific scorers in the Horizon League, and the Raiders never established a consistent scoring threat.
In this season, Butler has been at its best offensively when it can go inside and get production from Andrew Smith, Roosevelt Jones and Khyle Marshall. All three were effective in the second half, but Smith was particularly productive. He was able to get good position in the low post and converted both left-handed and right-handed shots, keeping the defense from keying on any particular tendency. He also drew several fouls and made the most of the opportunities they presented. This picture illustrates an unspectacular, yet still key, facet of Butler's second-half offense in this game.
From here, the tournament moves on to the Athletics-Recreation Center in Valparaiso for doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday. There were no upsets Tuesday in the HLTSBWDSEFJC, so five of the six teams remaining enter Northwest Indiana with at least 12 wins over conference foes (including first-round action). The sixth is a surprisingly spunky Youngstown State squad with the ability to stay in any game with its 3-point shooting. Basically, anything can happen from here on out. This weekend's games should be competitive and entertaining, and I look forward to reporting from the ARC.
As for Hinkle, it will likely sit empty for quite a while. If the Dawgs do reach the NCAA tournament, they will likely do so without returning here. If not, the CBI or CIT may come calling, and the old barn may again be open for business. All of that is indeed TBA. Stay tuned!
at BUTLER 70, WRIGHT STATE 52 02/28/2012
WRIGHT STATE 13-19 (7-11) -- J. Mays 4-10 1-2 11; R. Arceneaux 3-5 0-0 7; K. Griffin 1-5 1-2 4; C. Darling 3-6 6-9 12; A. Pacher 1-5 3-4 5; M. Vest 0-1 0-0 0; J. Balwigaire 0-2 0-0 0; J. Mpondo 2-3 0-0 4; A. Battle 1-2 1-5 3; V. Hall 2-3 0-0 4; T. Sledge 1-4 0-0 2; J. Cuffee 0-1 0-0 0; S. Gossard 0-0 0-0 0; U. Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-47 12-22 52. BUTLER 19-13 (11-7) -- R. Jones 3-6 5-7 11; R. Nored 3-4 3-3 9; A. Smith 6-7 12-14 25; C. Hopkins 4-6 0-1 10; K. Woods 0-4 0-0 0; C. Stigall 1-3 0-0 3; K. Marshall 4-6 1-2 9; J. Aldridge 1-1 0-0 3; E. Fromm 0-2 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-1 0-0 0; G. Butcher 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-1 0-0 0; A. Barlow 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-41 21-27 70.
Three-point goals: WRIG 4-15 (J. Mays 2-3; C. Darling 0-1; V. Hall 0-1; A. Pacher 0-2; M. Vest 0-1; R. Arceneaux 1-2; J. Balwigaire 0-2; K. Griffin 1-3), BUTL 5-12 (E. Kampen 0-1; R. Nored 0-1; C. Stigall 1-3; A. Smith 1-1; C. Hopkins 2-3; A. Smeathers 0-1; J. Aldridge 1-1; K. Woods 0-1); Rebounds: WRIG 17 (K. Griffin 3), BUTL 31 (K. Woods 9); Assists: WRIG 11 (K. Griffin 4), BUTL 14 (R. Nored 6); Total Fouls -- WRIG 22, BUTL 18; Fouled Out: WRIG-None; BUTL-None.