Game #9-417: Saint Louis Billikens at Butler BulldogsFebruary 22, 2013 7:00 pm
As the end of February approached, we finally reached the first conference home game on the schedule that all Butler fans had circled - the rematch against Saint Louis. The Bulldogs were embarrassed by the Billikens in late January, and this game would allow them the opportunity to avenge that loss and to draw even with Saint Louis at the top of the Atlantic 10 standings. Any thoughts of the visitors not being ready for this game were cast aside from a viewing of Saint Louis's prior game, another showdown battle for first place in the league, that one against the VCU Rams. The Billikens had little trouble with VCU's vaunted Havoc defense, and also shut down their potent three-point shooting attack. Saint Louis jumped out to a somewhat unimaginable 30-9 lead, and coasted to an easy victory that caught the full attention of each of the fourteen other A-10 foes. One statistic reported from that game was that it was the seventh straight contest in which Saint Louis had held a lead of at least seventeen points over its opponent. I had no doubt that Saint Louis would be ready to play in this game.
Being deep into my seventh season as a regular watcher of Butler basketball, I struggled to remember another occasion in which I felt that the Dawgs were less likely to win a home game against a conference opponent. The only one I could potentially put into the same category was the Detroit game from last season, when Butler had established that they weren't a very good offensive team. I just felt that Saint Louis was playing so well that I couldn't see Butler holding them off for the full forty minutes. Brad Stevens has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the job that Jim Crews has done this season, especially in light of the circumstances into which he assumed responsibility for his team. As the two men met prior to the game, you could easily sense the respect that each had for the other.
As you'd expect for such an important game, Hinkle Fieldhouse was packed and the atmosphere was quite lively. There are moments in some games that I attend in which I force myself to set aside the emotion of the contest and to cease pondering strategy, and instead just sit there and absorb the atmosphere around me. The scene for this game was tremendous.
In my most recent recap of a Butler game, I proposed a notion that Butler would benefit by having Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham play more aggressively within the Butler offense. When two early dunks by Marshall provided Butler with an early 6-5 edge, and then when Dunham had a personal 7-0 run to increase their advantage to 17-9, I felt reasonably good about both Butler's start to the game and my ability to spot a key to the team's success. The visitors fought back, but the Bulldogs maintained an advantage throughout the half. Dunham closed out the half by (again) scoring the last seven of his team's points, and Butler went to the half with a 34-29 lead.
A key turning point came on the very first possession of the second half. Marshall got free on a weak-side cut to the basket, and was on the receiving end of a near-perfect alley-oop pass from Andrew Smith. He caught the pass, but missed the dunk. Instead of an easy basket that would have immediately brought the crowd into a full roar as play resumed, Saint Louis got the rebound, and then proceeded to seize control of the game over the early stages of the second half. Their opening run of 10-2 to begin the half subsequently grew to 19-7, then to 24-10. With a 53-44 lead with just over ten minutes to play, the Billikens had Butler on the ropes. I don't know how differently the game would have gone if Marshall had converted the alley-oop to open the half, but I am certain that Saint Louis would have faced a much greater challenge had he scored then.
Butler would claw back into contention, but could never again get take the lead. Trailing 57-54, Roosevelt Jones drove into the lane, made a short runner, and drew a foul. Sadly for the home crowd, his free throw attempt to tie the game bounced away unsuccessfully. A few possessions later, still trailing by a point, Butler's Kameron Woods secured a rebound and was fouled. He proceeded to step to the foul line, and missed both attempts. Butler's opponent on this night was too good - the Dawgs simply had to take advantage of those opportunities.
As the final minutes of this game ticked away, one team made the plays it needed to in order to secure the win, and the other team did not. Witnessed in those simple terms, the end result was not surprising. The difference between the champion and the unsuccessful contender is often not significant, and the home team walked away after this contest with some painful what-ifs. A 14-4 disadvantage in turnovers and eleven misses from the free throw line provide two key reasons why they didn't prevail here. Dunham and Marshall, who combined for eighteen first half points, totaled but one in the second half, and that provided yet another reason. In two weeks, Saint Louis will likely end up as the conference's regular season champion, and they certainly looked every bit the part on this night.
One of the most interesting people I've discovered in my Mid-Majority travels over the past couple of years is Oakland University Coach Greg Kampe. You can easily see how much Kampe loves the game and he wears his emotions on his sleeve from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Whether in victory or in defeat, I enjoy watching him coach and then later describe his thoughts on the game in postgame media sessions. As Kameron Woods missed the second of the free throw attempts mentioned above, I dropped my head in frustration and recalled a favorite Greg Kampe quote - "There are only two things in life that don't last: dogs that chase cars, and teams that can't shoot free throws."Yes, indeed.
SAINT LOUIS 65, at BUTLER 61
SAINT LOUIS 21-5 (10-2) -- M. McCall Jr. 5-10 6-8 18; D. Evans 7-13 3-5 17; R. Loe 3-6 0-1 7; J. Jett 3-10 1-2 7; G. Glaze 1-3 0-0 2; C. Ellis 0-4 0-0 0; J. Barnett 0-1 2-3 2; C. Remekun 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 19-47 12-21 53.
BUTLER 22-6 (9-4) -- R. Clarke 5-11 0-0 13; A. Smith 4-8 1-2 9; R. Jones 3-8 7-11 13; K. Dunham 4-10 4-4 14; K. Woods 1-1 0-4 2; K. Marshall 2-4 1-2 5; A. Barlow 0-1 0-0 0; E. Fromm 0-1 0-1 0; C. Stigall 1-2 2-2 5. Totals 20-46 15-26 61.
Three-point goals: SLU 3-15 (K. Mitchell 0-2; C. Ellis 0-2; J. Barnett 0-1; J. Jett 0-2; R. Loe 1-4; M. McCall 2-6), BUTL 6-18 (R. Clarke 3-6; C. Stigall 1-2; A. Smith 0-2; E. Fromm 0-1; K. Dunham 2-7); Rebounds: SLU 23 (R. Loe 6), BUTL 36 (A. Smith 9); Assists: SLU 10 (J. Jett 3), BUTL 11 (A. Smith 3); Total Fouls -- SLU 16, BUTL 22; Fouled Out: SLU-None; BUTL-R. Jones.