INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Butler finally figured out how to win a close game.
Just play defense.
While Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham each scored 18 points and Kameron Woods added 16, it was the Bulldogs’ suffocating second-half defense that spurred a late rally and sent them past Marquette 69-57 in overtime to end a five-game losing streak.
“To say this is just a big win would be a bit of a stretch,” Woods said. “We’ve been talking about getting over the hump, and it just came down to toughing it out.”
Getting that first Big East victory was no easy task for America’s favorite little school.
The Bulldogs hadn’t won since opening league play Dec. 31 against Villanova. Three of those losses came at home, all in overtime. They started 0-5 in league play for the first time since 1989-90 and have now played six overtime games, one short of the school record. Things got even worse Tuesday night at Creighton when Butler (11-7, 1-5) was embarrassed 88-60.
So when the first and second halves started poorly against Marquette, the Bulldogs refused to wilt. Instead, they dug down and defended the Butler way.
Marquette scored just 17 points after Derrick Wilson scored on a layup with 16:15 left, giving the Golden Eagles (10-8, 2-3) a 40-28 lead. Marquette went just 5 of 27 over the final 20 minutes of regulation and was 3 of 8 in overtime when Butler scored the first seven points and eventually pulled away.
“Five baskets in the second half, that’s hard to overcome,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “You would think if you look at their (second half shooting) numbers, you would think that’s pretty good (defense). It is pretty good, they’re pretty good offensively. But that is hard to overcome.”
Saturday’s game was just another chapter in what is becoming a pretty interesting rivalry.
The teams split two non-league games last season - Butler winning 72-71 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the Maui Invitational, Marquette taking the rematch 74-72 in the second round of the NCAA tournament when it avoided getting beat on another 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Plenty has changed since they last met in March.
Butler’s top two scorers, Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith, graduated. Butler’s No. 3 scorer, Roosevelt Jones, sustained a season-ending wrist injury on the team’s summer tour in Australia. Head coach Brad Stevens left for the NBA, and, of course, Marquette and Butler now share a conference affiliation.
Their affinity for playing close games remains unchanged, though, even on a day when it looked like the coaches’ preseason conference favorite would roll.
Not this time. Marshall, who went to straight to the training room after twisting his right ankle with 1:48 left in the first half, came up big inside late. Dunham kept working over defenders and Woods kept grabbing rebounds, finishing with 14.
The defense never buckled.
“When you go into overtime this game like they did, it’s hard,” Woods said, referring to how Butler blew a four-point lead in the final 90 seconds of regulation. “But coach (Brandon) Miller did a good job reminding us of how we had pretty much dominated the second half and we’ve got a lot of tough guys out there.”
Tough enough to change course after Alex Barlow’s inexplicable foul near the top of the key gave Jake Thomas a chance to tie the score at 49 with 4.6 seconds left. Thomas made both and Dunham’s half-court heave to win it didn’t come close.
But what the Bulldogs learned from those close calls against Villanova, DePaul and Georgetown worked to their advantage on Saturday.
“You have to play 40 minutes, or whatever, in the Big East,” Woods said.
He got the Bulldogs started with a jumper. Dunham followed that with a 19-foot turnaround jumper and then senior Erik Fromm hit a 3 from the left corner to make it 56-51 with 2:32 to go.
Marquette never got closer than five again after seemingly having control of the game for most of the afternoon.
Davante Gardner led the Golden Eagles with 17 points and 10 rebounds, pushing him within seven rebounds of becoming the eighth active Big East player with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. Jamil Wilson finished with 13 points and eight rebounds and Marquette’s other Wilson, Derrick, had 13 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“I just thought we didn’t make layups at times, we didn’t make uncontested shots at times, we were playing on our heels instead of playing to win,” Williams said.
Butler took advantage of the mistakes and won.
“We talked about what had happened at the end of the second half, how we had played, how we had defended,” Miller said. “It helps when your first two shots (in overtime) go in the basket. But I really like what we did, we executed on the defensive end of the floor.”
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