Butler played poor defense for the first 10 minutes of their trip in the Bahamas, but the next 90 minutes were excellent. A night after holding Middle Tennessee to just 53 points, the Bulldogs suffocated Florida defensively and did just enough on offense to claim a 61-54 victory.
The game had a very slow pace as neither team had many turnovers and both ran deliberate halfcourt sets. The fatigue of playing three games in three days likely also slowed the two squads down. Florida got a first half spark from freshman Andrew Nembhard who hit three treys and had five assists in the first 20 minutes. Deaundrae Ballard chipped in eight first half points as well, and Florida led 32-27 at the break.
Butler played strong defense in the first half, but played even better in the second. With 10:40 left in the game, Florida stood at just 45 points and Kamar Baldwin hit a three-pointer to give Butler a 47-45 lead. Although Butler never ran away, that lead was never relinquished.
Baldwin and Paul Jorgensen both got it going offensively in the second half combining for 25 points on 9-14 shooting. The pair led the Bulldogs in scoring on the night with 19 and 16 points respectively.
Overall, Butler finished 2-1 in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The trip seemed successful for the Dawgs; they made adjustments on both ends of the floor following a miserable effort in the opener and turned in two strong performances to round out the tournament.
Butler next plays Saint Louis on Saturday, December 1 at 5 p.m. ET.
Bulldog defense looks terrific
If there is one knock on former Butler coach Chris Holtmann (other than his sudden departure), it’s that the team struggled defensively under him more than a Butler team should. LaVall Jordan hoped to change that. Last year, the Bulldogs were still not elite defensively; but in most of their games this year, they have made it very difficult for opponents to score. This kind of defense makes every Butler basket seem like it’s worth four points instead of two.
Butler is lacking some playmaking ability this year, and as such, the Dawgs cannot afford to turn the ball over. They need to have as many scoring opportunities as possible. In this game, Butler did a good job, turning it over ten times. Furthermore, Butler can be encouraged by the fact that four of those turnovers were from the big men, Brunk and Fowler, and two of the turnovers were shot clock violations. In short, Butler’s ballhandlers took very good care of the ball.
Baldwin leads the charge
Baldwin had a quietly strong performance, logging 19 points, six boards, and five assists. He led the Dawgs in minutes with 37, and most impressively, led the team with a +/- of +14. Butler needs Baldwin to have games like this where he makes good decisions, takes what the defense is giving him, and affects the game with his defense and rebounding.