Brandon Crone's return to Hinkle Fieldhouse wasn't enough to give the Nova Southeastern Sharks a fighting chance as Butler opened its 2013-14 campaign with a decisive 101-64 victory over the former Bulldog captain's Division II squad. Crone, now an assistant coach for the Sharks, was a two-year captain for Butler during the mid-2000s (including a Sweet Sixteen campaign in 2007).
New Butler head coach Brandon Miller picked up the first head coaching win of his career as his team started off the year with hot shooting and strong defense, ending any suspense by halftime. Led by 16 first half points from Kellen Dunham, the Bulldogs ran up a 55-27 lead at the break. The home team shot 64% and got eight players on the scoresheet in the first period while holding Nova to just 10-32 from the field.
Butler kept up the pace until well into the second half before letting off the gas a bit to get fifteen (15!) guys playing time. All told, the Bulldog's offense looks as efficient as ever without last year's top three scorers, albeit against inferior competition. 61 percent shooting for the game, 12-21 from beyond the arc, while out-rebounding the visitors 41-23. New beginnings don't get much sweeter than this.
Alex Barlow and Kellen Dunham started in the backcourt, as expected. Dunham followed up his 15 points in last week's intra-squad scrimmage with 16 tonight to lead the team. With leading scorer Rotnei Clarke playing professionally in Australia this season, Dunham will be asked to carry the load with his outside shot. 3 of 5 on three-point attempts in just 19 minutes has to make Coach Miller happy.
Barlow started 23 games for Butler a year ago, but rarely made an impact on the offensive end. Not much different tonight, 2 points and 1 assist in 13 minutes on the floor. In stepped Elijah Brown. The 6'4" son of former Cavaliers and Lakers coach Mike Brown scored 19 in the Blue-White scrimmage Friday. Tonight? 11 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes. If he continues to shoot with confidence, it will be difficult to keep the freshman off the floor.
Khyle Marshall scored 13 points and grabbed 4 rebounds. Like Dunham and Brown, success in the intra-squad game seemed to carry over into the first exhibition matchup. Kameron Woods, quietly one of the better rebounders in the country last season (24.7 defensive rebound percentage), transitioned well in his first contest as a starter with nine boards. Erik Fromm chipped in with 8 points and 3 rebounds.
With so few minutes for the starters, its hard to extrapolate a game like this for the rest of the season. Guys like Nolan Berry (11 points, 6 rebounds) should continue to play a role in tougher games, but Jackson Aldridge (8 points), Andrew Chrabascz (4 and 4), and Devontae Morgan (also 4 points, 4 rebounds) gave the Butler coaching staff some different options to consider.
A good first exhibition win with plenty of playing time to go around should give Butler a nice jolt in the arm as they start the season. However, Bulldog fans will have to wait a few weeks to see what this team is really made of.