Butler played perhaps its best 20 minutes of the season in the first half against UC Irvine; despite a slow second half, the Bulldogs had done enough to end up prevailing 71-54. UC Irvine came into the game with an 11-2 record and is still considered one of the favorites in the Big West. The Bulldogs picked up a quality win and looked far superior doing it.
Jordan Tucker had a fine first half, showcasing his abilities that the Bulldogs have been so excited about. He scored 13 points and was complemented by the sharpshooting of Paul Jorgensen who scored 9 in the first half. Butler played stifling defense, especially on the perimeter, and built a 41-17 lead by the break.
Butler’s offense slowed down considerably in the second half and UC Irvine began to play better, but the game had already been decided. The Anteaters outscored the Bulldogs 37-30 in the second half, but still lost by double digits.
Jorgensen finished with 19 while Tucker and Kamar Baldwin both scored 14. Aaron Thompson had a great game, playing tough defense and dishing out seven assists. Butler fans also caught their first glimpse of freshman Bryce Golden who drew a charge, scored two points, and pulled down two rebounds in just seven minutes.
Butler next plays Florida (round two!!) on Saturday, December 29, 2018 @ 4:00 p.m. ET
Jordan Tucker could be special
Jordan Tucker may legitimately be the most talented Butler player of all-time. Gordon Hayward comes to mind as the likely favorite for this crown. While Hayward’s skills were a little more polished, Tucker has some physical advantages over him. Regardless, Tucker is immensely talented and he fueled the first half offense with some deep threes and aggressive drives that resulted in free throws. What LaVall Jordan probably likes even more is the fact that Tucker collected five rebounds and drew a charge in 14 minutes. Butler’s ceiling looks entirely different with Tucker.
Aaron Thompson must have spent a lot of the offseason studying film. Thompson has always been quick as a cat and has played great defense, but in the last couple games he has really put his agility to use on offense. He is penetrating the defense and finding open shooters who should be invisible to him. Thompson made at least three “wow” passes in this game; he had seven assists but would have had more if his teammates had capitalized on a few opportunities. Thompson’s playmaking ability is extremely valuable, especially because he is surrounded by lights out shooters like Jorgensen, Tucker, and McDermott.
The two takeaways mentioned above are factors of the third: Butler is able to employ a potent “small ball” lineup with Tucker at the 4. Granted, Butler always plays “small ball,” since the Bulldogs only have two true centers and never play them together. But the kind of small ball with Tucker out there is the style that NBA teams like the Warriors play. Aaron Thompson is the penetrate-and-dish guy. Fowler or Brunk is the big body in the middle. The rest of the floor is littered with sharpshooters. Jorgensen, McDermott, and Tucker are all assassins from three. If one of them is replaced by Baldwin, he has the ability to shoot or pump fake and drive. Tucker also showed a willingness to attack the rim. Tucker taking minutes from Christian David and Henry Baddley allows Butler to address its offensive woes with a very scary lineup.