With a road record of 1-3 and sitting near the bottom of the Big East standings, this was a big game for the Butler Bulldogs. It’s hard to call a game in January a “must win,” but this was close as you could get.
Heading into Wintrust Arena to face the DePaul Blue Demons, this was the perfect time for Butler to take care of business on the road. That’s exactly what they did. Butler got some big performances from Kamar Baldwin and Kelan Martin and defeated DePaul 79-67.
This contest started off slow as both teams struggled to score the basketball for the first couple of minutes. It was 7-4 at the U16 timeout, but you still got the feeling that eventually both would find their grooves offensively. Afternoon tip-off games aren’t as bad as the earlier tip-off times but we are still prone to seeing the game start out with a snails pace and everyone look groggy. The offense slowly picked up for Butler, as they began to smartly run more of their offense through Kelan Martin as the half wore on.
DePaul, on the other hand, was a completely different story. The Blue Demons went on a scoring drought which lasted over seven minutes. Their offense was stagnant, sloppy, and it was very tough to watch. In those seven minutes, Butler were able to go on a 14-0 run and expand the lead to as big as 11. Max Strus finally broke the spell with jumper on the right wing, but by then, the damage had been done.
The trend for the rest of the half was a game of catch up for DePaul. They desperately tried to cut the lead to single digits. Something finally got sparked as they ramped up the defensive pressure, going with a fullcourt press with less than four minutes left in the half. However, the plan was cut quickly, as Butler expanded their lead to 16. The Bulldogs finished the half on a strong note, going on a 9-0 run in the final two minutes. It put an exclamation point on what was a dominant opening 20 minutes, as Butler led 41-19 after the first half.
It was a rough half offensively for the DePaul offense, as they scored only 19 points. They shot an abysmal 27.6 percent from the field (8-29). The only player who had it slightly going on in the first half was Strus, who went 3-of-7 from the field for seven points.
Meanwhile for Butler, it was The Kelan Martin Show as he lit up the Blue Demons for 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, which included three triples.
To start the second half, DePaul implemented a soft fullcourt press in an attempt to rack up the pressure out of the gate. It worked to some relative success, as Butler had back-to-back turnovers to start. But it stalled out. That was mostly due to DePaul, once again, going ice cold from the field. However, they were able to cut the lead down to 18 thanks to a Strus baseline drive and dunk, which brought the crowd to their feet. Eli Cain hit a 3-pointer one possession later, and suddenly it was a 15-point game.
The game begin to hit a lull point with around 15 minutes left. Both teams were unable to put the ball in the basket in open play and despite the pace being frantic, it was sloppy. However, thankfully for DePaul, it was both teams who were struggling. Especially when it came to Butler and taking care of the basketball. Through the first part of the second half, the constant DePaul fullcourt press was giving Butler problems. And when the Blue Demons began knocking down their shots, things got a little bit interesting.
After a Strus block on Tyler Wideman, Butler coach LaVall Jordan thought his player was fouled and let the ref know about it. That led to a technical foul and DePaul was able to cut the lead to 12. However, it all changed in a flash. With the score at 63-49, Strus went up to take a contested 3-pointer. Aaron Thompson made a fantastic defensive play, stripping the ball right out of Strus’ hand. Then, on the following possession, Paul Jorgensen knocked down a corner 3-pointer. And suddenly it was a 17-point game in the blink of an eye. DePaul got a Cain layup and a surprising 3-pointer from big man Paul Reed to cut it straight back to 12.
Time wasn’t on DePaul’s side with less than four minutes left in the game, but they were in it.
To Butler’s credit, they did a good job weathering the storm. They knocked shots down when needed to and hit their free throws along with burning some clock. The real dagger came when Baldwin knocked down two free throws with less than a minute remaining to make it 74-58, essentially sealing the win.
In the end, it was a 79-67 win for the Bulldogs, putting their record at 14-7. It was the duo of Baldwin and Martin who led Butler with the former nearly notching a double-double and the latter dropping 24 points in the winning effort. Strus was the main man for DePaul, dropping 27 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field.
The loss dropped DePaul to 8-11, who play Georgetown in their next game.