Game #9-489: Butler Bulldogs vs. La Salle ExplorersMarch 15, 2013 2:30 pm
Heading into Butler's quarterfinal matchup against LaSalle, I had a relatively high (for me) comfort level about this game. I didn't attribute this to any particular overconfidence on my part, especially since LaSalle had won the prior meeting between the teams, but there's a certain stigma when you play the perceived worst team/poorest seed in a tournament setting that you can't lose that game. With Butler having cleared that hurdle, I sensed the Bulldogs being a bit looser in their pre-game warmups than they were the previous day against Dayton. That's not always a good sign for a lot of teams, but I was encouraged and thought the team appeared ready to play.Earlier in the day, word began to leak out on Twitter that school presidents and athletic directors from Butler and Xavier had walked out of that morning's A-10 conference meeting. I had heard nothing about why there was a meeting, or if that's a regular occurrence at the conference tournament, but I had a pretty good idea of what might have caused representatives from Xavier and Butler to get up and leave. Whether that was a factor or not, and whether it was real or not, it seemed like the fans of every other school were united in favor of LaSalle. (Not coincidentally, the majority of "neutral" fans in attendance were VCU supporters, and their color scheme almost perfectly matched LaSalle's gold color, so perhaps that led to an illusion of sorts). Nevertheless, it felt for a time like we were back in the Horizon League, where everyone united against Butler. The road black uniforms, indicative of the poorer seed, added further to the perception of the beloved vs. the hated. As a fan, I don't totally dislike that scenario, but it is in marked contrast to the national media's perception of the team (at least for now).
LaSalle entered the game missing their 6'11" center Steve Zack due to an ankle injury, which essentially left them with a 6'8" power forward, Jerrell Wright, and a bevy of guards. A high basketball IQ was not necessary to assume that Butler would need to pound the ball inside and utilize their size and strength advantage. However, this also created some concerns on how Butler would be able to contain LaSalle's advantage in quickness. The game started out in favor of Butler in the early moments, with Khyle Marshall playing an expected prominent role with some quick low post scoring. However, even guards Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham were able to convert with layups out of a halfcourt offensive set. When Dunham added a three-point jumper, Butler was off to an early 15-6 lead, and the majority of the crowd had lost its earlier rambunctious spirit.
Butler maintained a relatively comfortable edge over the next 5-6 minutes, and when Marshall converted on an old-fashioned three-point play off of an offensive rebound, Butler had matched its largest lead at 22-13. At that point, LaSalle junior guard Tyreke Duren got hot. He opened with a three-pointer, then scored on layups in the next two possessions. That keyed a stretch of highly efficient offense from the Explorers, which was later capped off by a string of nine straight points from junior guard Tyrone Garland. Over the last seven minutes of the half, LaSalle went 7-10 from the floor (3-4 from three-point range), 5-6 from the foul line, and had just one turnover. after all of that, Butler was fortunate to have maintained a 37-35 lead at the break.
In the second half, LaSalle struggled to drive the ball to the basket as successfully as they were able to do earlier, which forced them to settle for an inordinate number of three-pointers, on which they were much less successful than in the first half. LaSalle senior Ramon Galloway, their leading scorer, was held under control yet again by Butler's Roosevelt Jones, and never really had any positive impact on the game. Meanwhile, Butler continued to exploit their advantage on the interior. Andrew Smith, Jones, Marshall, and Kameron Woods all had success scoring around the basket, and when they weren't converting, they were controlling more than their share of rebounds. Clarke and Dunham provided enough balance from the perimeter to keep LaSalle's defensive attention, so Butler never experienced any prolonged offensive lulls. When Duren and Sam Mills hit three-point shots and brought LaSalle back to within six, Butler took a timeout with just over five minutes to play. Soon thereafter, Clarke hit a contested three-pointer with 4:14 remaining, and LaSalle was never able to score again.
Overall, I believe this was Butler's best game since January. I'd been fairly critical of their lethargic play throughout February, but they looked quite efficient offensively in this game. The defense still needs a little work for Butler to contend for a Sweet Sixteen berth, but they certainly had some positive moments here. The Bulldogs were able to take advantage of their inside edge to outrebound LaSalle 37-22. Next, Butler gets a third chance at a Saint Louis team who has been a very difficult matchup for them. LaSalle sits squarely on the bubble, unable to get the victory here that would have certainly improved their status in the tournament committee's eyes. They must hope that more focus is paid to their one fantastic week in January when they beat Butler and won at VCU, rather than their bad early season loss to Central Connecticut State. Aside from that, their schedule is filled with a number of decent-to-nice wins (the best of the rest a home win in overtime over Villanova), and no really bad losses. I see a number of projections showing them as a possible First Four team next week, and that might be the best fate it can muster.
BUTLER 69, LA SALLE 58
BUTLER 26-7 (11-5) -- R. Clarke 6-16 0-0 14; R. Jones 5-8 0-0 10; A. Smith 3-9 5-5 11; K. Dunham 3-9 2-2 9; K. Woods 4-5 2-2 10; K. Marshall 6-7 1-1 13; A. Barlow 0-1 0-0 0; E. Fromm 1-2 0-0 2; C. Stigall 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 10-10 69.
LA SALLE 21-9 (11-5) -- T. Duren 8-13 0-1 19; R. Galloway 1-10 2-3 4; S. Mills 1-8 0-0 3; J. Wright 5-7 4-6 14; T. Garland 4-9 4-5 14; D. Peterson 0-1 0-0 0; R. Brown 0-1 1-2 1; G. Hunt 0-0 0-0 0; T. Dunn 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 20-50 11-17 58.
Three-point goals: BUTL 3-15 (R. Clarke 2-9; A. Smith 0-1; A. Barlow 0-1; K. Dunham 1-4), LAS 7-23 (T. Dunn 1-1; R. Galloway 0-7; T. Duren 3-6; S. Mills 1-4; T. Garland 2-4; D. Peterson 0-1); Rebounds: BUTL 37 (K. Woods 9), LAS 22 (J. Wright 11); Assists: BUTL 10 (A. Barlow 3), LAS 11 (R. Galloway 6); Total Fouls -- BUTL 14, LAS 15; Fouled Out: BUTL-None; LAS-None.