Everybody knew Saturday’s Butler Bulldogs-Creighton Bluejays matchup was going to be a battle of opposing styles. Butler’s stingy defense versus Creighton’s terrific offense. Greg McDermott said before the game he hoped both teams would score 70+ points as that would likely favor the Jays. To Coach McDermott’s chagrin, only one team reached 70. Butler’s defense carried the day and Creighton’s eight-game winning streak came to an end with the Bulldogs prevailing 71-57.
The game was closer than the final score indicates. Early on it was a back-and-forth affair with Sean McDermott leading the Bulldogs and Marcus Zegarowski helping the Jays keep pace. Butler began to create some separation with a flash of brilliance from Derrik Smits. Smits subbed into the game and had three buckets and an assist in a span of just 2:37. The smaller Jays had trouble matching up with the 7-footer, but Butler didn’t really manage to exploit the mismatch after that brief period in the first half.
Creighton continued to struggle on offense with Zegarowski the only one able to solve the Bulldogs’ defense. Despite Kamar Baldwin’s 0-9 first-half shooting, Butler managed to expand its lead to 13 after a Jordan Tucker three-pointer with 15 second remaining. Mitch Ballock then responded with a deep stepback triple at the buzzer to give the Jays a little momentum headed into the break.
The Jays did indeed come out inspired in the second half, steadily chipping away at Butler’s lead while displaying some impressive defense of their own. Damien Jefferson’s athleticism and aggression seemed to catch the Bulldogs off-guard as he managed to score eight points in the first six minutes of the second half; his layup at 14:46 cut the Butler lead to just five. That’s when the Kamar Baldwin show started.
Baldwin has struggled over the last four games or so and had an ice cold first half Satuday. In the second half, rather than fading into the background, he got even more aggressive. Creighton continued to execute well, scoring at a much more efficient rate in the second half, but it seemed Baldwin had an answer for them every time, scoring 20 points in the second half on 7-13 shooting.
It was still just a four-point game with 6:32 remaining when McDermott came alive after a mostly quiet second half, scoring on two straight possession. After a Zegarowski turnover, Baldwin knocked down a jumper to expand the lead to nine. Creighton never really got close after the Bulldogs eventually turned the score somewhat lopsided, winning by 14 even after a Ty-Shon Alexander three on the Jays’ last possession.
Baldwin was the game-high scorer with 20 and McDermott was huge for the Bulldogs with 18 points, eleven rebounds, and no turnovers. Zegarowski finished with 15 to lead Creighton.
Butler: Team Effort
Butler couldn’t rely on the likely suspects in this one. Baldwin had a terrible first half. Christian David was sidelined for most of the game with foul trouble. Foul trouble also forced Aaron Thompson out of the game at one point. Bryce Golden played just 15 minutes (likely because of match-up concerns) and didn’t score a single point.
The Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat. Jordan Tucker contributed, Derrik Smits contributed, even Henry Baddley threw down a dunk and pulled down a rebound in his short minutes. Baldwin and McDermott had their moments of brilliance, but when they weren’t controlling the game, other Dawgs were stepping up. Butler is a complete team that executes on both ends of the floor, regardless of which five guys are out there. LaVall Jordan has done a tremendous job with this team.
Creighton: A Little More Composure
You can’t be too hard on the Jays after this one. They played the #7 (KenPom) team in the country on the road and matched them step-for-step for about 34 minutes. The Butler defense, one of the best in the nation, took them out of their game a little bit, but they stepped up their own defense and stayed in the game. Then one of the Big East’s best offensive players, Baldwin, took over the game.
If there is one thing to take away from this game for Creighton it’s that a little more composure would go a long way for them. They stayed tough and competed, but there were moments where ill-advised shots, turnovers, and bad fouls halted their momentum. Against a team like Butler, the margin for error is very small. Coach McDermott was noticeably frustrated with his team’s decision-making several times throughout the contest. If the Jays can stay within themselves a little bit more, they could enter the elite tier of teams in the Big East.
Butler plays at Providence on Friday, January 10, at 9:00 p.m. ET.
Creighton hosts Villanova on Tuesday, January 7, at 9:00 p.m. ET.