With 21 seconds remaining and facing a one-point deficit, Butler went to a tried and true strategy — give the ball to Kamar Baldwin and watch the senior make a play. It worked. Baldwin nailed a step-back jumper to give Butler the lead and Tyrell Terry lost the ball trying to rescue Stanford at the buzzer; the Bulldogs took the Hall of Fame Classic championship by a score of 68-67.
The Bulldogs had already faced plenty of adversity throughout the game. They battled foul trouble throughout and hit a major stumbling block when Sean McDermott went out with an ankle injury late in the first half. At first glance, the injury looked severe and McDermott was taken back to the locker room in a wheelchair.
The Bulldogs, who had amassed a 28-21 lead began to really struggle without him and that struggle carried over into the second half. Oscar da Silva made his presence felt for the Cardinal, propelling Stanford to a 47-40 lead. Seven points is the largest deficit Butler has faced this year.
With Kamar Baldwin resting on the bench, Aaron Thompson willed the Bulldogs back into the game with a single-handed 6-0 run that included a steal. The teams went back and forth a couple times and with 8:43 remaining in the game, Baldwin checked back in with Stanford leading 51-48. Baldwin took over for the Bulldogs.
Baldwin scored 17 points from that point on, going 8-10 from the field during that stretch. Stanford matched him shot-for-shot, spreading the points between a few different scorers. When the Cardinal took the lead with 21 seconds left, there was no question who would be getting the ball for Butler. Baldwin received the ball on the left wing and dribbled over to the top of the key. He took a few sharp dribbles, threatening to drive before stepping back and knocking down the smooth jumper that would prove to be the winning bucket.
Baldwin finished with 22 to lead all scorers and Bryce Nze had a strong game with 13 points and eight boards. The Bulldogs won the turnover battle 15-11 and out-rebounded the Cardinal 31-23. Terry led Stanford with 21 points.
Butler improves to 7-0 and after a Thanksgiving break, will begin the toughest stretch of its non-conference schedule.
Bulldogs Rise to the Challenge
For the first time this year, Butler was seriously tested. Though Coach Jordan’s squad did trail in the second half against Minnesota, they never faced a significant deficit like they did in this Stanford game. On top of that, several players were sidelined with foul trouble and the loss of Sean McDermott was a huge blow both tangibly and emotionally.
Butler simply kept executing at a high level. They didn’t let a bad play turn into two bad plays as they did so often last year. They didn’t panic once, even when they were seconds from defeat. This team may finally have the experience and confidence it was lacking the last few seasons.
Baldwin Takes Over
Kamar Baldwin completely took over this game down the stretch. He came into this season as a star player and is starting to look like a superstar. He could not and would not be stopped, scoring at all three levels, and putting in a couple of circus shots. The formula for victory in this one is a formula we will likely see again; the Bulldogs play tough defense and keep the game close, then Baldwin makes the big offensive plays to give them the edge.
Health is Essential
No college basketball team wants to have injuries, but health may be more essential for Butler than for most teams. There are three Butler players who are absolutely critical — Thompson, Baldwin, and McDermott. The Bulldogs completely fell apart when McDermott left the game, and also struggled during stretches where Thompson and Baldwin were on the bench. If any of these three goes down to a significant injury this year, the Bulldogs will be a completely different team. Khalif Battle isn’t ready for big minutes at this level and Jordan Tucker, Christian David, and Henry Baddley have all proved too inconsistent to take many of McDermott’s minutes. Baldwin is, of course, irreplaceable. Hopefully the Dawgs can stay healthy!
Butler faces Ole Miss on Tuesday, December 3, at 7:00 p.m. ET.