Game #9-362: Butler Bulldogs at Saint Louis BillikensJanuary 31, 2013 9:00 pm
So said, St. Louis' own Bob Ramsey, who ritually announces a Billiken 3 with "BANG!" As I pulled out of the parking garage next to Chaifetz Arena, Ramsey wanted to make sure SLU fans knew that this was no cupcake win. Either that, or he was just so blown away by what he had seen that his Hype-O-Meter went haywire.
Butler was ranked #9
going into the game. Not #9
on the Mid-Major Top 25, mind you, but #9
nationally. People who see the final score or read the box score will hardly believe that. Except for a brief run toward the end of the first half and the fact that the home team's lead was not statistically safe until there were about 3 minutes left in the game, this game gave the distinct impression that if Butler had pulled out a win, THAT would have been the upset. Ramsey did reveal a telling conversation he'd had with the Butler SID who pointed out that no Horizon League coach scouted Butler as well as current SLU assistant Jim Whitesell.
Both teams played plenty of tough defense, though Butler's broke down more in the 2nd half. For most of the game, Butler had trouble getting into their offense. St. Louis swarmed the perimeter. Alex Barlow, the unlikely hero of the IU upset, looked more like a walk-on the few times I saw him play the point guard position. It seemed to me that Butler tried him at that position a few times in the early going, then abandoned it because he was over-matched. He would invariably find himself hemmed in and dribbling nervously. Kellen Dunham tried his hand and fared no better. The SLU defense was like a blanket on the perimeter. The guards played man-to-man, and they looked quicker and more agile than the Butler guards. Rotnei Clarke managed to barely hold his own in the ball-handling arena.
The problem for parts of the first half was that SLU wasn't faring much better on offense. As The Rammer put it, Butler ain't no Savannah State. I saw Butler play pretty much the same solid defense I always remembered them playing in the Horizon League. Also, SLU missed a number of easy layups and their early 3 pointers were off target. In spite of Butler's offense sputtering and a number of silly turnovers, it was a tight game until there was about 7:30 left in the first half. SLU went on a 19-2 run, fueled by a few more Butler turnovers. More importantly, their perimeter shots and their layups started falling.
In one sequence that typified Butler's performance, SLU scored and Khyle Marshall took the out of bounds pass and flipped it across the lane ... right to the streaking Jake Barnett. Without changing his flight path one iota, he took the pass and laid the ball into the basket. Brad Stevens jumped up out the bench and practically plunged the fingers of his left hand through the palm of his right hand calling timeout he was so angry. There was a scowl on his face as he snapped at Marshall. I've only seen him that angry once before: last March in Valpo as his Bulldogs were putting a beat-down on Milwaukee in the 2nd round of the Horizon League tournament. Roosevelt Jones had just emphatically dunked the ball, then engaged in taunting behavior that earned him a technical foul. The HLN cameras caught the whole scene: Stevens screamed at him and made him ride the pine for a while. The subtext was clear: we don't play that way here. Brad Stevens means business.
And then for one brief segment of the game, SLU let up off the gas a bit and Butler made a 9-0 run to pull within 8. Included in that run was a patented Rotnei Clarke 25-foot 4pt play. If "Rotnei" hasn't become a verb yet, it should be. Fortunately for the home team, Jordair Jett nailed a 3 after a stop to extend the lead back to 11 going into the locker room.
I wrote about the big-time venue that is Chaifetz Arena last year
with all its bells and whistles. But tonight was the first time I experienced it during a sellout. I had to roam almost completely around the arena before I found a Men's restroom without a line extending halfway down the concourse. By the time I finished what Bill Cosby used to call "God's work", there was not enough time to stand in yet another long line to get something to eat, so I returned to my seat for what I hoped would be a great second half of basketball. I did appreciate the free wifi, which helped save the battery in my Android.
Butler's batteries seemed to be running on empty, though. SLU never let up in the 2nd half, pushing the lead out to 17, then maintaining it pretty much that way for the rest of the game. Butler's inconceivable night continued. 3 times, they committed a lane violation. Once they pulled within 14, but that's as close as they got, and it was short-lived. With about 3 minutes to go, the lead was statistically safe.
And when the final buzzer sounded, this happened:
And nobody is talking about how Butler's #9
ranking was a fraud. Nobody thinks that Butler won't rebound from this. After all, if Butler was the kind of team that would be nationally embarrassed by a loss like this, they wouldn't be in the A-10 conference and they wouldn't be playing this game at Chaifetz Arena. They might be playing it at the Edward Jones Dome, or more likely, they'd be paying St. Louis to come to Hinkle. And a loss like this would be a huge slimy egg on their face. They'd be the laughing stock of the national pundits, to say nothing of the 4-letter network. Their #9
ranking would be more a remnant of reputation and praise by association than objective analysis. By the way, I'll be writing about the rematch at Hinkle in February. I suspect that game will go differently, but I'll be just as interested to see how it turns out as I was for this game.
You see, I've had some experience with this kind of thing. If you polled a thousand Horizon League fans, you could probably find a few who think nothing but evil thoughts about Butler. That was true when Butler was still the standard bearer of the Horizon League. Most of us have watched or participated in a court rushing of our fellow fans at least once after taking down that standard bearer. In fact, a few of my fellow Valpo fans love to revel in the fact that Valpo has a 4-game winning streak against them. But most of us are sane enough to realize that such upsets did not magically turn Butler into a patsy. Going to 2 straight Final Fours kinda helps to dispel that notion. What we settled for was enjoying a quality win -- possibly an impressive win -- over an impressive program that will continue to be impressive for years to come.
That's what I saw tonight. I can't wait for the rematch.
at SAINT LOUIS 75, BUTLER 58
BUTLER 17-4 (4-2) -- R. Clarke 5-12 4-5 17; R. Jones 3-7 1-4 7; K. Dunham 2-7 0-0 4; A. Smith 5-13 1-1 12; K. Woods 2-4 1-1 5; E. Fromm 1-1 0-0 2; A. Barlow 0-0 0-0 0; C. Stigall 1-1 0-0 3; K. Marshall 1-2 0-0 2; D. Morgan 1-1 0-0 2; J. Aldridge 0-0 2-2 2; A. Smeathers 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 22-51 9-13 58.
SAINT LOUIS 15-5 (4-2) -- D. Evans 6-8 3-5 15; R. Loe 5-9 1-1 12; M. McCall Jr. 3-8 0-0 9; C. Ellis 2-9 3-4 7; J. Jett 8-12 1-4 19; G. Glaze 2-6 0-0 4; J. Barnett 2-3 0-0 4; C. Remekun 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 28-55 9-16 71.
Three-point goals: BUTL 5-14 (R. Clarke 3-7; C. Stigall 1-1; A. Smith 1-3; A. Smeathers 0-2; K. Dunham 0-1), SLU 6-19 (C. Ellis 0-3; J. Barnett 0-1; J. Jett 2-4; R. Loe 1-5; M. McCall 3-6); Rebounds: BUTL 35 (K. Dunham 7), SLU 27 (C. Ellis 5); Assists: BUTL 14 (R. Jones 4), SLU 11 (C. Ellis 3); Total Fouls -- BUTL 16, SLU 13; Fouled Out: BUTL-None; SLU-None.