INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Butler’s usual March has already begun.
They’re making baskets, playing defense, winning games and surprising any remaining doubters.
They did it again Saturday when Kellen Dunham scored 29 points and made a career high seven 3-pointers to lead the Bulldogs to a 71-54 rout of Seton Hall.
“I think we’re playing our best basketball right now,” Dunham said after Butler’s second straight win. “It seems like that’s our tradition, to turn it up in March a little bit.”
Few teams have flipped the switch better than Butler.
The Bulldogs have won at least one game in seven of their last eight NCAA tournament appearances, reached the Sweet 16 four times since 2003 and played for the national title twice. But after a dismal first season in the Big East, capped by an 0-7 record in February, things looked as bleak as they have in recent memory when their final two players from Butler’s 2011 runner-up team - Erik Fromm and Khyle Marshall - said farewell to the Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd Saturday.
Fromm and Marshall left their home court sounding a lot like their predecessors even though this has been no typical season for Butler (14-16, 4-14).
The Bulldogs needed Saturday’s victory just to snap a four-game home losing streak that dated to Jan. 18 and to extend their streak of consecutive seasons with a winning home record (24) and consecutive Senior Day victories (19).
Since March began, though, the Bulldogs have looked like a different team.
On Thursday, they won at DePaul by 23, a game in which point guard Alex Barlow scored a career-high 19 points. And Saturday they beat up Seton Hall as Dunham, the Big East’s No. 7 scorer, got back on track. The sophomore shooting guard finished 11 of 17 from the field and made all seven of his 3-point attempts, including a seven-minute opening flurry of 17 points and five 3s.
It was enough to motivate his teammates.
“When I see Kellen hitting like he was early, you just try to hit your guys a little harder (on screens),” Fromm said after scoring nine points. “You’ve got to feed the hot hand.”
Even Pirates coach Kevin Willard was impressed.
“He did a good job of creating his own shots, and he’s fun to watch when he’s creating shots like that,” Willard said of Dunham.
Fun for everyone but the poor-shooting Pirates (15-16, 6-12), who desperately tried to stay in front of Dunham.
Patrik Auda led Seton Hall with 22 points, Sterling Gibbs added 11 and Eugene Teague scored 10 points on a day Seton Hall shot just 38.9 percent from the field and went just 3 of 14 on 3s. The Pirates head into the Big East tournament rematch Wednesday with four losses in five games.
“We’ve just got to figure out a way to score,” Willard said.
That had been Butler’s biggest problem since Roosevelt Jones went down with a season-ending wrist injury during a summer trip to Australia.
Now it appears the Bulldogs may have turned the corner.
They made their first eight 3-point attempts Saturday, jumping to a 38-18 lead with 6:25 left in the first half. Butler wound up 11 of 18 beyond the arc, one short of its season best 12 against Division III Manchester, and the Bulldogs actually hit a higher percentage of 3s (61.1) than free throws (54.5).
To Butler, it all sounds familiar.
“I think we’re gaining confidence in what we’re doing and we’ve gotten better and better,” said coach Brandon Miller, who played on the Bulldogs’ first Sweet 16 team. “I think that gained confidence has helped us play well.”
Dunham’s opening flurry did, too.
After opening the game with a 3-pointer and an 18-footer, Marshall put in a short jumper. Dunham followed that with another 3, and after Marshall’s alley-oop dunk, Dunham hit three more 3s to make it 24-10. When Fromm and Barlow kept the 3-point streak intact, the Bulldogs led 38-18.
But when Dunham went to the bench with his second foul with 6:05 left in the first half, things changed. Butler didn’t score another first-half basket, and Seton Hall closed the half on a 12-2 run to make it 40-30.
Dunham’s return swung the game again.
The Bulldogs opened the second half on an 8-0 run, which included Dunham’s sixth 3, and took advantage of Seton Hall’s 3-of-19 shooting during the first 10½ minutes of the second half to pull away for an insurmountable 59-37 lead.
Marshall and Elijah Brown each had 10 points. Fromm and Barlow both scored nine.
“As Khyle said, March has been good to Butler,” Fromm said. “And I’m sure it will continue.”
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