22 points by Kellen Dunhamweren't quite enough to lead the Butler Bulldogs to a victory against the Villanova Wildcatsin the Big East opener for both teams. Dunham made a long fadeaway jumper with 21 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and brought Butler within a point in the extra period with a smart drive to the basket. Unfortunately for Bulldog fans, coach Brandon Miller's out-of-bounds plays resulted in an off-balance Dunham three and a turnover, wasting a great opportunity to put away a ranked opponent at home.
Dunham's decision to ignore the pick and take his man to the basket with Butler trailing 74-71 in overtime was a very smart decision. Coaches talk about the need to extend games when trailing late, but too often you see a player jack up an off-balance three point attempt to tie it. Of course, that came next.
Butler forced a turnover on the ensuing Nova possession and had the ball under the basket down 74-73 with 13.8 seconds left in overtime. The out-of-bounds play resulted in a poor three point attempt by Dunham in the corner, but Khyle Marshall forced a jump ball on the rebound to give the Bulldogs a second chance. The resulting inbounds play was a pass to Dunham in the same place with a bunch of other Butler players standing around. Turnover, game essentially over.
After watching a master of the whiteboard in Brad Stevens, Butler fans have to be very disappointed in Coach Miller's inability to draw up effective late-game plays. With the team only down one point and fourteen seconds left on the clock, a forced corner three was about the worst play Butler could have drawn up in that circumstance. Right player, but not the correct shot at all. After Marshall gave the team a second shot, Dunham was given an even worse play to work with and was unable to handle the inbounds pass. Watching the replay you see Erik Fromm, Marshall, and Elijah Brown standing around with no real attempt to force a Wildcat defensive breakdown and an easy shot.
As expected, Butler had its struggles making shots against the conference's best defense. However, strong three-point shooting by Elijah Brown and Erik Fromm kept them in the game along with strong defense of their own. Fromm's D on Pinkston's last shot in regulation was textbook. The Bulldogs outrebounded Villanova 34-31 and now stand at 6th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. Improved defending and some of the best rebounding numbers in the Big East make Butler a legitimate contender in the conference. They just need to close out a game like this first.
Butler Breakdown (Player Grades)-
Alex Barlow (B-) seemed to be riding a wave of confidence and forced his shot too much in this game. He finished 2 of 10 for six points. He did fill out the stat sheet with nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals, however, so it ended up being a net-positive game for the scrappy point guard. Dunham (C+) had his own shooting issues, making just 3 of his 11 three point attempts but added that previously-mentioned game-tying drive. He showed he can drop 22 against the best defense Butler will play all season.
Khyle Marshall (D) disappeared when Butler needed a big game from him. Just four points and three rebounds with four fouls in 22 minutes. Kameron Woods (C) wasn't quite a double-double man, but gave a decent effort. Six points and seven boards for him. After disappointing all season, we got to see good Erik Fromm again (B). However, with he and Elijah Brown shooting the ball well, why wasn't either an option in the late-game out-of-bounds plays? Dunham is clearly the best choice, but Villanova had that figured out. Might have been nice to try to get something to another guy instead of forcing the issue.
Brown (A-) must just play better with his dad in the building. 19 points, made four of his seven three point attempts. Added five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He's going to be frustrating at times as he develops into a reliable option for Butler, but this game isn't close without his hot shooting off the bench.
Another disappointing loss for Butler, but you can tell this team is on the cusp of a pretty good year. A win at Xavier on Saturday would get things moving in the right direction.
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