You had to look close to see that Thursday night’s Butler team was the same group from Wednesday night. After performing miserably against Dayton a night before, the Bulldogs jumped out to a quick lead against Middle Tennessee and never let up, eventually prevailing 84-53.
The catalyst for Butler early was Sean McDermott. McDermott hit three three-pointers in the first ten minutes and made three more before the half was over. He finished with a career high 21 points, scoring all of them from behind the arc. Aaron Thompson had eight assists on the night, and assisted five of McDermott’s treys.
McDermott didn’t work alone, however, as the Bulldogs unleashed a three-headed monster on the Blue Raiders; Paul Jorgensen and Kamar Baldwin combined for 39 points on 22 shots. Henry Baddley also chipped in ten points, but scored most of them when the game was out of hand.
Perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs stepped up their defensive effort as well. They forced 20 turnovers and held Middle Tennessee to an abysmal 32.1% shooting night. Antonio Green came into this match-up averaging 20 points per game and was limited to just five points on 2-5 shooting.
Butler will play Florida on Friday night at 9:30 p.m. ET in its final Battle 4 Atlantis contest.
Aaron Thompson the facilitator
I have written several times this year about Butler’s struggle to create shots. The lack of dribble penetration and significant passes has caused the Bulldogs to be stagnant at times. Against Dayton, this issue really stood out, but Thompson dealt with foul trouble all evening. Against Middle Tennessee, Thompson was able to avoid foul trouble and really led the offense, penetrating the defense and making great passes out to the perimeter. Thompson regularly struggles with foul trouble, but if he can stay on the floor, he may help solve Butler’s biggest offensive issue.
First half will be a key to success
Butler was plagued last year by slow starts, and that was the story in its loss to Dayton. Despite playing a second game in as many days on Thursday night, the Bulldogs came out with great energy, defending tough and running the floor for transition buckets. When Butler gets in a rhythm and can control the pace and play deliberately, they are almost impossible to beat. Butler’s play in the first ten minutes of games may decide most of its contests this year.
Sean McDermott can fill it up
If you haven’t read up on what Sean McDermott has been through over the last five years or so, you have some homework to do. McDermott has been hampered by health issues for basically his entire high school and college career until recently. At full strength, McDermott hoped for a breakout season this year.
Thursday night against Middle Tennessee, he shot the lights out. Some of his shots were wide open but a number of them were contested. He has such beautiful shooting form, you feel like it should go down every time he lets it fly. If he can become a Kellen Dunhamesque shooter for the Bulldogs, some of their offensive shortcomings may be swept under the rug.