Henry Ellenson did it all for the Golden Eagles on Saturday, scoring a career-high 32 points in what amounted to a huge 75-69 win for Marquette over the struggling Butler Bulldogs.
In a back-and-forth contest that never saw the lead stretched further than six points, Ellenson's performance was eye opening, as he finished with 10 rebounds and six blocks to go along with his offensive outburst.
JaJuan Johnson, following a 22-point performance against Stetson, had eight points in the first eight minutes to pace the Golden Eagles. And from there, Ellenson started rolling, hitting all sorts of jump shots en route to 18 first half points. But despite Ellenson's hot shooting Marquette wasn't able to keep a lead, thanks to Butler's Roosevelt Jones who dropped 15 points on Saturday afternoon.
The O'Fallon, Illinois native parlayed three first half steals (five for the game) into points at the other end, slashing through the lane and finishing near the rim.
Down five points with a minute remaining in the first half, Jones knifed through the lane and scored on his trademark floater off the window. After a good Butler defensive possession, Jones connected on a 3/4-court heave off the glass to beat the halftime buzzer and tie the game at 37 heading into the break.
The second half was nothing short of a volley. Butler lead 44-41 at the under 16 timeout, but after an Ellenson free throw, freshman guard Traci Carter, who finished with 15 points, hit the first of his four second half 3-pointers to tie the game at 44.
Butler would tie the game again at 53 with 10 minutes remaining, but another Carter three gave Marquette a lead it would never relinquish. Butler was able to stay close thanks to Kelan Martin's 17 second half points. They closed the gap to two points with 35 seconds remaining but would not score again.
Here's what we learned from this matchup:
1. Henry Ellenson dominates, receives strong contributions from supporting cast: Ellenson was monstrous to say the least. Early on it was apparent that he was feeling it, using his length to shoot and score over the smaller Butler frontcourt. He scored in a variety of ways, hitting both of his 3-pointers and all four of his free throws in the first half.
He kept it going in the second half, showcasing his physicality and consistently getting to the free throw line (14-of-16 FT). His final stat line, 32 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks and 1 steal is eye popping and indicative of his dominant performance.
And while Ellenson is certainly the story, he was helped by solid performances from a few of his teammates.
Fellow freshman Traci Carter had the best offensive game of his young career, knocking down five three-point field goals, four in the second half, and finishing with a career high 15 points. Carter averages 4.6 points per contest, and scored just 12 total points in his previous four games. Johnson finished with 11 points and six assists, and Luke Fischer didn't score but provided five blocked shots, working in tandem with Ellenson to anchor the lane for the Golden Eagles.
2. The Middle of the Pack: Big East Coast Bias staffers will attest, it's been difficult to separate teams in the middle of the BIG EAST standings. This one featured two 3-5 teams hungry for a win, and the game did not disappoint. The game was in the balance through the final minute, as both teams traded blows and bows in what was a physical, BIG EAST style battle.
Butler entered BIG EAST play at 11-1 but has struggled to a 3-6 record out of the gate, showing that this conference is deep and difficult. Marquette, now owners of wins at Providence and vs. Butler, improved to 4-5 in the BIG EAST. Those wins, coupled with a few solid nonconference victories and a remaining BIG EAST slate ripe with opportunity, gives Marquette a legitimate chance to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth.
Today marked a big win for this young team, as it looks to differentiate itself from other middle of the pack BIG EAST contenders.
3. Kelan Martin: Butler's sixth man was huge in the second half for the Bulldogs and finished with 27 points. Every time it seemed as though Marquette would run away with the game, Martin found a way to get a clutch bucket, most notably his 3-pointer with 35 seconds to go that brought Butler within two.
Unfortunately his effort wasn't enough, but Butler fans have to be happy with the way he continues to score the ball. He did it from deep, mid-range and at the rim, never letting Marquette pull away.
Butler has struggled on the road so far in conference play, with its lone win coming by five points at ninth place DePaul, and losses coming at Creighton, Providence, Xavier and now Marquette.
The Bulldogs face Georgetown at home on Tuesday before heading to St. John's and Seton Hall in what will be a pivotal stretch for the team. Despite the 3-6 conference record, Butler has a bevy of offensive weapons at its disposal, which should translate to some close game wins moving forward in conference play.