It was a tale of two halves today for the Butler Bulldogs, who were upset on the road by the Tennessee Volunteers 67-55. While both teams struggled offensively in the first half, the Bulldogs were bailed out by strong three-point shooting and physical defense. Trailing by nine at halftime, the Volunteers flipped the script in the second half.
For the final twenty minutes, the Bulldogs reverted to some bad habits demonstrated in their early tests, failing to finish at the rim, take care of the ball, and protect the paint on defense. Strong defense by Tennessee on the interior essentially sealed off the paint for the Butler offense, and the team shot just 33.3 percent from the floor on the day. The Bulldogs tend to be most successful offensively when forward Roosevelt Jones can get going near the rim and open up looks for shooters like Kellen Dunham and Kelan Martin, and today that just wasn't the case.
The Volunteers held Jones to just six points on 2-9 shooting, erasing the "slash" half of Butler's slash-and-kick offense. Jones struggled with the full-court press throughout the game, turning the ball over five times and fighting just to get the ball over half court. In a lot of ways, Tennessee played very similar to the Oklahoma squad that defeated Butler in the Bahamas, and their physical defensive pressure propelled them to victory.
Tennessee was led by guards Josh Richardson III and Kevin Punter, who combined for 38 points. Richardson added seven steals on 9-13 shooting, and proved to be the spark plug for the Volunteers in the second half.
Not all was bad for the 8-2 Bulldogs. Senior forward Kameron Woods had 16 rebounds, including five on the offensive boards. Martin, a freshman guard, had another strong outing with 13 points on 4-9 shooting, and it's possible to make a case that Martin should have been on the floor for the flailing Bulldogs down the stretch. Dunham added 16 points, and while he wasn't quite as effective in the second half, he proved once again to be Butler's strongest offensive option.
Losses like this can expose the Bulldogs a bit, but we've seen the team overcome shortcomings like this before. Interim head coach Chris Holtmann will need to make some adjustments before next week, when Butler will take on in-state rival Indiana on Saturday, Dec. 20. That game will be televised on Fox Sports 1 at 2:30 p.m.