Butler fans will point to their postseason success and 2 Final Four banners as evidence that Butler has been the better program this decade, but when it comes to head to head results Xavier has had Butler's number. Xavier had won the previous 4 meetings and 9 of the last 11 entering today's game. None of that mattered tonight though, as Butler scored 58 points in the 2nd half to rally from a 6 point halftime deficit to defeat their rival 83-78.
Player of the Game: Kamar Baldwin
Absolutely no doubt about who the best player on the floor was on either side. Baldwin scored 21 points, all in the second half, on 6-11 shooting from the floor and a perfect 8-8 shooting from the line. He dominated the 2nd half and hit clutch FTs when Butler had to have them in the final minute. Baldwin also picked up 9 rebounds to help Butler stay even on the boards with a Xavier team that came in tops in the Big East in rebounding. It's only fitting the game ended with Baldwin picking up a steal and sealing it at the line with under a second remaining. Kamar wasn't a star in the making tonight. He was just a star.
Butler Battled on the Boards
I don't need to rehash Butler's struggles on the glass this season. There has been no such struggle for Xavier, which made it a huge area of concern coming into this game for the Bulldogs. It was a non-factor today though. Butler and Xavier each grabbed exactly 25% of their own misses. Anytime you can completely neutralize an opponents strength it's going to lead to good things, and that is exactly what Butler did here.
Clutch Free Throws
Butler's margin of victory was 5, and that's exactly how many more free throws the Bulldogs hit than Xavier, despite shooting 1 fewer. Butler shot 87% from the foul line and hit 11 straight free throws with under 2 minutes to play and refused to give Xavier any opportunity to tie the game. The Bulldogs are the only team in the Big East and one of only five power conference teams shooting above 80% in conference play (81.5%). Butler has never finished better than 5th in the Big East in free throw percentage.
Last year at Hinkle the Musketeers came in and lit up Hinkle Fieldhouse (50% from 3-point range). Not so this afternoon. Xavier was 6-19 (31.6%) from distance. That makes 9 straight games Butler has held opponents below 40% shooting from 3, including 6 teams under 30%. The Bulldogs now rank 18th in the country in 3-point defense and 2nd in Big East play. Some fans might complain about the lack of help on drives to the rim or touches in the post, but Butler is simply opting not to give up open looks behind the 3-point line. This is a sound defensive strategy. Open 3-pointers are one of the most efficient shots in basketball.
Martin vs Blueitt
This was supposed to be a matchup of Big East player of the year candidates, but both players entered the game in the middle of significant slumps. Martin was actually removed from the starting lineup in favor of Avery Woodson. Martin knocked down his first couple of shots, but then struggled the rest of the way. His final stat line wasn't bad (13 points, 4-8 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers), but this isn't the Kelan Martin Butler needs moving forward. It was good enough to win the matchup vs Bluiett tonight though, who had a game to forget. The Indianapolis native had more turnovers (3) and fouls (5) than made baskets (2-10) and was hounded by the Dawg Pound all night.
Recruits in the House
According to Tyler Hicks, Butler played host to Eric Hunter, Gabe Brown, Duane Washington, and Jeremiah Keene. Those who have been paying attention will remember that Eric Hunter was also at the Villanova game. The local recruit is a priority for the Butler staff, and they appear to be making a lot of headway there. Hunter is also strongly considering Xavier, which makes this huge victory in front of a rowdy Hinkle Fieldhouse that much better. Die hard Butler fans have been critical at times of Butler's sometimes laid back crowd, but the recruits in attendance today certainly didn't see that. Every high school player dreams of playing in rivalry games like this in this type of environment.
There's no time to rest for the Bulldogs. They get one day off and then are back in Hinkle Monday afternoon to face Marquette at noon. The Golden Eagles are only a half game back of Butler in the Big East standings. They will be looking for their first Big East road win of the year.