In their final tune-up before next Saturday's in-state showdown with No. 11 Purdue, the No. 18 Butler Bulldogs got a huge lift from sophomore Kelan Martin and their bench to knock off Tennessee 94-86 in front of their home crowd in Hinkle Fieldhouse. With 25 points and 11 rebounds, Martin recorded his third straight 20-point game and his second double-double of the season, exploding once again off the bench while knocking down five triples from deep. There was a lot happening on both sides tonight, and here's three things we learned:
1. "The Microwave" and the Bench Mob come up big
It was a bit of a slow start for the Bulldogs, who struggled to get anything on the board early in the game while trailing by as much as ten in the first eleven minutes. While starters like Kellen Dunham and Andrew Chrabascz both struggled to find an early rhythm, the Bulldogs got a huge boost from their bench in Martin and Jordan Gathers, who had a season-high ten points and three assists. Head coach Chris Holtmann endearingly referred to Martin as "The Microwave" after the game, and his performance drew praise from teammate Roosevelt Jones, who said after the game that "honestly, I'd take Kelan coming off the bench over anybody in the country." Their well-rounded attack has been one of Butler's strongest assets this season, and with Martin dominating in the way that he has been, Jones' post-game prediction that Martin will be Sixth Man of the Year this season may not be very far off at all.
2. Jones has a huge game of his own
Martin drew headlines for yet another flashy performance, but Jones was the unsung, steady hero of this one. Jones had to pick up the production of the starting unit (Dunham and Chrabascz combined for just 19 points on 5-of-16 shooting), and was able to wiggle his way into the lane with ease on his way to a near triple-double performance. Finishing with 21 points, ten assists and seven rebounds, Jones led the charge in a variety of ways, and when the offense stagnated down the stretch a bit, it was Jones that re-invigorated their final push to the win. Jones has deferred a bit more this year offensively with Martin and Dunham doing the heavy lifting, but it's wins like today that remind people just how good Jones is when he's called upon to step things up.
3. Don't forget about Punter and Moore
They'll most certainly be pushed to the wayside after Butler pulled things away, but it's really hard to overstate just how good Kevin Punter and Armani Moore were for the Volunteers today. Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes has most certainly given Punter a green light to go out and create, and even being tasked more as a ballhandler, Punter finished with a game-high 27 points. Punter cooled off a bit from deep after all three of his triples came during the Tennessee run in the first half (he finished 3-of-10 from deep), and Moore picked up the slack in the second half en route to a 17 point, seven assist and six rebound performance. The Vols have lost three straight, but if Barnes and company can right the ship (they have another tough matchup with No. 20 Gonzaga next Saturday), Punter and Moore will be two names to watch in the postseason.