For just over a month, the Butler Bulldogs have been looking for a statement conference win. More importantly, they've been looking for a momentum booster of sorts, opening their Big East schedule with a disappointing 3-6 record after climbing all the way up into the Top 10 during non-conference play. Fortunately for head coach Chris Holtmann and company, his Bulldogs may have just gotten that on Tuesday evening.
Behind a career-high 35 points from (who else?) sophomore savant Kelan Martin, Butler sent the visiting Georgetown Hoyas a reminder of what their team can do offensively when all gears are clicking, and oh boy, were they clicking tonight en route to a 87-76 victory. Martin's scoring line is the highest of any Big East player so far this season, a true testament when you consider the National Player of the Year candidate and two potential lottery picks who been flat-out dominating among those ranks, but he was far from alone in Butler's best offensive performance of the calendar year.
Senior guard/forward hybrid Roosevelt Jones, easily the team's most consistent performer this season, finished with a 19 point-six rebound-five assist performance, and fellow senior Kellen Dunham wasn't far behind with 18 points of his own. Together, Martin, Jones and Dunham combined for 72 of the team's 87 points, overshadowing the fact that the Bulldogs got just one point from their bench on the night.
The Hoyas didn't go down without a fight, however, cutting the Butler lead to just six with 1:11 remaining while capitalizing on some sloppy Butler possessions down the stretch. Leading the charge for Georgetown was senior point guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who finished with 21 points and seven assists, connecting on five of his nine attempts from behind the three-point arc. Sophmore L.J. Peak led the team in scoring with 22 points, and Isaac Copeland, who struggled a bit from the field but still found himself on the highlight reel with a gorgeous dunk on an inbounds play, added 11 points of his own on the night.
The Hoyas came to life a bit in the second half, where Peak had 18 points and Smith-Rivera contributed another 14. Giving up 19 second chance points on 11 Butler offensive rebounds, they got better on the boards as the game went on, but it was too little, too late. With Martin putting up arguably one of the best single-player performances of the year, the Bulldogs rolled to victory, never allowing the Hoyas to fully hit their stride.
Anyone who's watched the Bulldogs this season and last can attest to the development of Martin's game, and his confidence appears to be growing as the team relies on him to share a heavier offensive load. He's always been a talented shooter from range (even if last year's percentages didn't accurately show that), but watching him get more comfortable with putting the ball on the floor, euro-stepping through the lane, finishing with his off hand and getting out in transition, you can see the gears start to turn even more. After one such euro-step missed at the rim, it was Martin who chased the Hoyas back down the floor, earning the block at the rim just in time on the defensive end.
"Folks, you're looking at a rising star," commentator Gus Johnson said on-air in regard to Martin during the game's final minutes. After a night like tonight, that may be an understatement.