It’s officially time to start taking the Butler Bulldogs seriously. After a 7-0 start, one of the major questions remaining was this: Can the Dawgs finally conquer their road demons? They answered that on Tuesday night with an emphatic, “Yes,” beating Ole Miss 67-58, and controlling the game from start to finish, never trailing.
The Bulldogs continued their recent trend of hot starts, jumping out to a 7-2 lead behind five Kamar Baldwin points. Butler imposed its will on the opponent for most of the first half, slowing the game to a snail’s pace and forcing the Rebels into a half-court game where they struggled mightily to find openings in the staunch Butler defense. With 8:39 left in the first half, a Jordan Tucker three gave Butler a 22-8 lead and forced an Ole Miss timeout.
Ole Miss came out of the timeout aggressive and were able to speed up the Bulldogs a little bit. Aaron Thompson had an uncharacteristic six turnovers in the game, two of which came during the later part of the first half. Ole Miss also took advantage of a John Michael Mulloy turnover and some missed jumpers to cut the lead to seven with less than a minute till the break.
Then Kermit Davis, the Rebels’ head coach, erupted after a foul was called on Devontae Shuler, giving Butler two free points heading into the break and derailing his team’s momentum. Davis had spent the majority of the half yapping at the officials, and it looked like he wanted to get a technical at this juncture. He may have been attempting to fire up his squad, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. The teams went into the break with Butler leading 31-22 behind 12 points from Kamar Baldwin, who was just getting started.
The second half was the Kamar Baldwin show. Baldwin, who has been nails for the Bulldogs this season, had probably the best game of his career. He poured in 19 second half points and finished the night with 31 points on 11-16 shooting to go with six rebounds, three assists, and no turnovers.
Despite a frustrating game offensively, the Rebels didn’t go down without a fight. Their leading scorer Breein Tyree came alive, scoring eight points in less than a minute and a half, bringing Ole Miss within four with 9:11 remaining. Baldwin answered with a 5-0 run of his own; Thompson followed with a layup putting Butler back up by ten and Ole Miss didn’t threaten again.
The Bulldogs have started to garner national attention, jumping into the rankings at #24 this week. They are now 8-0 with wins over two SEC opponents, a Big Ten opponent, and a Pac-12 opponent. They have won two neutral site games and a true road game and have moved up to #19 in KenPom rankings. Butler has more tests coming up with Florida, Baylor, and Purdue looming on the schedule, but with every game the Bulldogs look more and more like the real deal.
There isn’t much to say about Kamar Baldwin — his game speaks for itself. For the third time this year, one of the major takeaways from a Butler victory over a high-major opponent is that Kamar Baldwin was the best player on the floor. Not only was Baldwin by far the high scorer of the game but he did so in a very efficient manner. He let the game come to him, taking advantage of every opportunity presented by the defense. Butler could beat anybody on a given night if Baldwin plays like he did against Ole Miss.
The Butler Way is Back
This game might have been boring to some basketball fans. Butler fans couldn’t get enough of it. This was the classic grind of a game that Butler built its program on, reminiscent of the Brad Stevens teams that would control the tempo, play near perfect defense, and wear the opponent down before prevailing in a low scoring game. The Bulldogs developed a little bit of a different identity under Chris Holtmann, one that was somewhat successful, but probably not ideal for the program going forward. It appears that under LaVall Jordan, the Dawgs are returning to the Butler Way of old.
Butler faces Florida on Saturday, December 7, at 12:00 p.m. ET.