At this point in the season, it is no secret that no lead is safe against the Butler Bulldogs. However, just because you blow a big lead against them doesn’t mean you can’t take it back.
Xavier came into Hinkle Fieldhouse ready to play and after Butler took a 9-4 lead, the Musketeers unleashed a furious 25-2 run, earning a commanding 18-point lead. The Bulldogs battled back, as they have several times this season. The lead was cut to 10 by halftime.
Butler started the second half out strong, and with 12:47 remaining in regulation, a Sean McDermott three gave Butler its first lead since the early-going. Butler maintained a slim lead until Trevon Bluiett was fouled shooting a three-pointer with 6:42 remaining. He sunk all three free throws to tie the game at 66.
With 1:57 left, Bluiett struck again with a three-pointer. Xavier led 80-73 and looked to be headed towards a victory. The Bulldogs refused to quit. In the last minute of the game, Sean McDermott hit two threes and Kamar Bladwin hit one which was enough to tie the game at 84 and force overtime.
Overtime was a neck-and-neck battle, but the big shot came with 25 seconds left. Trevon Bluiett hit a long three from the top of the arc and Xavier took a five-point lead. After that, it became a matter of Xavier shooting free throws and Butler shooting desperate threes. When all was said and done, the Musketeers had escaped with a 98-93 victory.
Bluiett led the way with 26 points, but the big men for Xavier were also key as Sean O’Mara and Kerem Kanter combined for 36 points. For Butler, Kelan Martin posted 34 points, seven rebounds, and four assists while Sean McDermott made five threes and scored 17 points.
Xavier improves to 10-2 in conference play, while Butler falls to 7-5.
Xavier is basically impossible to guard
Why? LaVall Jordan was faced with a decision. Should he double team Kanter and O’Mara in the middle and take his chances with kickouts to the likes of Bluiett, JP Macura, and Kaiser Gates? Or should he attempt to guard the big guys one-on-one and hope to limit perimeter shooting?
Jordan chose the second strategy, and it proved ineffective. Kanter and O’Mara could not be stopped one-on-one, even by as stout a defender as Tyler Wideman. At the very end of the game when Butler started digging more in the paint, Bluiett came alive. If Kanter and O’Mara can dominate one-on-situations and be willing passers, the only way Xavier fails to score is if the opposition doubles in the post and Xavier’s perimeter players can’t knock down shots.
Kelan Martin needs help
Kelan Martin is a baller. His days of inconsistency and poor decision-making are mostly behind him. When Butler has needed him to perform, he has. Tuesday’s game against Xavier was no different. Martin hit big shot after big shot to get and keep Butler in the game. In the end, it wasn’t enough, and that’s because Martin didn’t have the help he needed from his teammates.
McDermott had an above-average game, scoring 17 points, but Jorgensen and Baldwin were disappointing. Wideman also didn’t contribute much, mostly because he spent a lot of the game in foul trouble. Baldwin has been a much more inconsistent player than Martin this year, and oftentimes Baldwin’s performance is the determining factor in whether Butler wins or loses. He and Jorgensen are going to have to bring it against Villanova, Providence, Creighton, and Seton Hall, all of whom remain on Butler’s regular season schedule.
The poise of both Butler and Xavier could prove valuable in postseason play
Xavier and Butler share a great asset in common - seniors. In a big conference game in a rocking environment, guys like Trevon Bluiett, Kerem Kanter, and Kelan Martin showed up. Both teams faced deficits. Butler had to charge back after falling to a massive deficit, and Xavier had to regain its composure after blowing a big lead. At the end of regulation and during overtime, both teams mostly stayed within themselves and played smart basketball. A lot of close college games are decided by one team crumbling under the pressure. In this case, neither team crumbled and Xavier had to outplay the Dawgs at the end to get the win. Xavier will definitely be in the NCAA Tournament and it seems Butler will be as well — both of these teams will benefit from having calm and collected coaches and experienced and controlled players.