Exactly one week after letting a late, double-digit lead trickle away before losing to Xavier, Butler found itself in a similar situation against St. John’s. The Bulldogs had led by as many as 22 at one point, but with just under a minute left, two free throws from Mustapha Heron brought the Red Storm within four. This time, Butler made seven of eight free throws in the last minute and was able to hold on for the 80-71 victory.
The Bulldogs dominated in the first half, led by Jordan Tucker, who scored a career-high 24 points on the day. Trailing by 12 going into the second half, St. John’s opened up with a 7-2 run to cut the lead. LaVall Jordan called a timeout, and Butler came out of it red hot. Over the next four minutes, the Bulldogs sank three three-pointers and expanded the lead to 22 with 14:09. It appeared the game would be a blowout.
Butler, however, has struggled all season (and, in truth, for a few seasons) to put 40 minutes of good basketball together. Meanwhile, the explosive St. John’s offense wasn’t ready to give in. St. John’s began to steadily chip away at the lead.
St. John’s simply ran out of time. Butler had several careless turnovers and wild shots, but still held a lead when the clock got down to a minute. From there, St. John’s had no choice but to foul. Missed free throws were a key component of Butler’s meltdown against Xavier a week ago, but this time the Bulldogs were able to convert most of them. Kamar Baldwin was a major key for Butler in holding off the late surge—he finished with 30 points.
It was a big win for Butler as they got to .500 in conference play and won two consecutive games for the first time since beating Presbyterian and UC Irvine in late December. St. John’s, meanwhile, drops to 3-4 in BIG EAST play. The Johnnies start to conference play has been puzzling, as has much of their trajectory the last few seasons. The same team that dominated Marquette and Creighton has now lost to DePaul and looked lifeless for most of a game against Butler.
St. John’s next plays Georgetown on Sunday, January 27 @ 12:00 p.m. ET
Butler next plays Villanova on Tuesday, January 22 @ 7:00 p.m. ET
Jordan Tucker is a rare talent
A few weeks ago I pitched some members of the Butler Twitter community the following question: Is Jordan Tucker the most natural talented player that has ever played for Butler? Unanimously, they named just one player who might be more talented—Gordon Hayward, who was an NBA lottery pick and all-star. A major part of this is obviously the fact that Butler hasn’t had a lot of highly-touted recruits in its history. The other part is what Tucker demonstrated against St. John’s; he’s extremely talented. With a smooth shooting stroke, a quick release, and slick handles, Tucker can fill up the scoring column in a hurry. Tucker has a lot to work on, but he raises Butler’s ceiling by several feet.
St. John’s still lacks composure
A hallmark of St. John’s basketball over the last few years has been a lack of composure and consistency. Each year since Mullin took over, the Johnnies have gotten better; during the game, FOX showed a graphic about how they have climbed in team rating each year. Coming into Saturday’s game against Butler, they were ranked in the top 40. However, in a rowdy, pro-Butler environment at Hinkle, they showed a lack of composure yet again. The Johnnies were lazy early in the game, leaving shooters open and giving up offensive rebounds. Even as they willed themselves back into the game in the second half, they allowed to many easy looks for Kamar Baldwin and were whistled for a huge technical foul at one point. This program is trending in the right direction, but many thought this would be the year they truly arrived. There is still time, but Coach Mullin will have to figure out how to help his team mature.