Six seconds left, down by one, and Kamar Baldwin with the ball in his hands. Butler will take those odds every time. On Tuesday night, Baldwin drove to his right and elevated to release a right-handed floater, presumably off the glass — but the shot was blocked by Baylor’s Mark Vital and the ball deflected off of Baldwin before bouncing out of bounds. After a foul, a free throw, and a buzzer, Baylor was celebrating a 53-52 victory over Butler.
The Bulldogs likely hung their heads in the locker room, but they had much to be proud of. On the road against the #11 team in the country, they got off to an atrocious start, falling behind 23-10 in the early-going. Baylor shot the three well and Butler struggled to score against the athletic, tenacious Bears’ defense. The Dawgs fell behind by as many as 16 at one point and trailed by ten at halftime. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs steadily chipped away in the second half, never forcing a tie or lead change, but earning one last chance to win the game.
It was a forgettable night for both teams offensively, though this can mostly be attributed to the tremendous defense that was played. Both teams shot below 40% and both had exactly 11 turnovers. The only players that shot above 50% in the game were Sean McDermott (6-8) and Freddie Gillespie (4-6). Both McDermott and Gillespie were key factors in this one. McDermott kept the Bulldogs close with four three-pointers, while Gillespie led a Baylor front-court that dominated Butler’s Bryce unit (Nze and Golden).
Butler battled until the final whistle, never panicking, and continuing to play Butler basketball. The Dawgs kept a methodical pace even when trailing by double digits, got stops when they absolutely had to have them, and ultimately took one of the country’s top 15 teams down to the wire in its own arena after falling behind by 16 at one point. This loss will sting, but the Butler faithful has much to be encouraged about.
Bulldogs Offense Still Too Dependent on Baldwin
One of Butler’s major problems last year was its dependence on Kamar Baldwin. This year, it appears the team has made strides in the right direction regarding this issue, but still ran into some trouble at the end when nobody but Baldwin could make a play.
The most talented scorer on the roster besides Baldwin is Jordan Tucker, but he appears to be in the proverbial doghouse as he played just seven minutes in this one. McDermott provides lights out shooting on the perimeter but can’t create his own offense. The person on whom the burden seems to fall is Aaron Thompson. Thompson has been great this year at penetrating defenses and dishing to others, but he was stifled by the Bears’ tenacious guards and this made the Butler offense really one-dimensional down the stretch.
Gritty, Not Pretty
“Gritty, not pretty” is in full effect with this Butler squad. And it looks like they have the physicality, conditioning, toughness, and maturity to impose their will on any opponent in any circumstance. Baylor won the game, but Butler forced the Bears to play Butler’s game. It was slow, defensive, and ugly. This is how great Butler teams of the past have competed with far superior opponents and it’s how this year’s squad remained undefeated longer than almost every other team in the nation.
The sky is the limit for this team.
Butler faces Southern on Saturday, December 14, at 12:00 p.m. ET.