No team in the nation rebounds as well as Old Dominion. All season the Monarchs have dominated opponents on the glass to the tune of 12.2 more boards a game.
The Butler Bulldogs wanted to give Old Dominion a taste of that right back – and held their own in the rebounding battle en route to a buzzer-beating, 60-58 win in the opening game at Verizon Center on Thursday afternoon.
“We just made sure that we had to check everybody. They take four guys to the boards every time, so we just had to make sure that as much as possible, we need to check them,” Butler guard Chase Stigall said. “A couple of times, we had good block-outs, and their strength kinda took over and pushed us under the basket. We just wanted to make sure we were there and not out in the open just watching the game, watching them tip balls in.”
Watching Old Dominion get some key rebounds was what Butler did for much of the first half, as the ninth—seeded Monarchs did impose their will down low. Forward Ben Finney, center Frank Hassell and even guard Kent Bazemore had little trouble getting to the glass.
The key for Butler’s turnaround was getting its guards involved.
“We didn’t really do a good job in the first half. Finney and Bazemore were getting in there, getting some tips, getting some offensive rebounds,” Bulldogs guard Ronald Nored said. “But we really committed to it in the second half. I think that’s what got us the stops, because they pride themselves so much on second-chance points, and when those guys get in there and top it back to Hassell and those guys, it’s really hard to stop them.”
That was the message at halftime from coach Brad Stevens, who led this Butler team to within a basket of capturing the national title last season. Stevens was “disappointed” at the break that his guards didn’t have more rebounds, but they were much better in the second half even as they dealt with an aggressive Old Dominion team inside.
“Only one guard could really go, though, because they send Finney and Bazemore, and I’ll tell you what, when Finney runs to the glass, he’s like a linebacker running to the glass,” Stevens said. “He is awesome rebounding the basketball. I was really impressed with him.”
Inside the Butler locker room, though, there was a sense of pride that the Bulldogs stuck with the nation’s best rebounding team. Old Dominion wound up with three more total rebounds, but Butler got plenty of tip-in baskets – and the game-winner was a layup by Matt Howard that left his hands with 0.2 seconds on the clock.
“[Tip-ins are] one thing that they obviously pride themselves on, so we kinda wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine,” forward Andrew Smith said.
Even that was a product of putting a lot of effort in inside, and it likely will mean Butler gets a meeting with No. 1 seed Pittsburgh here on Saturday.