Last year, the Butler Bulldogstravelled to Maui to compete in a Thanksgiving tournament. The first game ended like this.
This season's opener in Orlando didn't quite come down to the last second, but it took some clutch shooting to bail Butler out once again.
Kellen Dunhamhit a big 25 footer with 2 minutes left to put Butler on top by one after a back-and-forth second half. A subsequent steal-and-dunk by Kameron Woodsextended the lead to 73-67. After a defensive stop, it was Dunham once again with an off-balance three pointer to end any question about the outcome.
Prior to Dunham's heroics, Butler repeatedly went to Khyle Marshall to keep the game in reach. Stymied by the Washington St. Cougars' matchup zone defense, Butler's role players stood by and let Marshall and Dunham carry the day. The pair combined for all but five of the Bulldogs' 46 second-half points.
Washington State entered the game with the most three point attempts in the country. Though only making a quarter of their attempts from long-range as a team, the Cougars' DaVonte Lacy scored 26 on 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Dunham finished with a tournament record 32 points. His six three-pointers eclipsed a career-high set twice last season. Struggling from the foul line at times this season, the normally-reliable Dunham returned to form by sinking eight of his nine attempts.
On ESPN2, Fran Fraschilla repeatedly referred to Khyle Marshall as a "player forward," an undersized wing who can score at the rim. However you want to refer to it, Marshall stepped up big when Butler needed him most. With nearly half of the team's points in the first half and an athletic dunk to jump-start the second period, Marshall carried the team until Dunham took out the daggers.
Despite the two-man show, Butler's offense still demonstrated some frustrating inefficiency at times. A lot of that can be traced to an inability to create scoring opportunities with their point guards. Early foul trouble limited Alex Barlow's minutes again. Jackson Aldridge and Rene Castro were each given chances to provide a spark, but were equally hampered with fouls away from the basket.
Kameron Woods finished with double-digits in his rebound column again. Woods also scored seven, but missed a couple good chances for second-chance points at the basket. With his length and athleticism, he also made an impact by sliding over and slowing down Lacy in the second half after the junior guard did most of his damage. Improved defense hampered the Bulldogs' effort on the glass, however, as the Cougars pulled down three offensive rebounds in an integral 90 second stretch midway through the second half.
Next game: vs. Oklahoma State Nov. 29 @ 1:30
The Oklahoma St. Cowboys ran out to a 52-29 halftime lead, but nearly gave it all away against Purdue in the game before Butler's in Orlando. Marcus Smart scored 30, but sat out for much of the second half following a technical foul. The Boilermakers cut a 19 point lead to four with three minutes remaining before Smart and Co. could pull it out. Markel Brownpicked up most of the slack on offense with 25 points of his own.
Tomorrow's game will be the best test of the non-conference slate for the Bulldogs. Butler has a chance to step up like last year's Maui tournament with a big win against a ranked foe or be exposed after several close calls already this season.
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