24 days: That’s how long it had been since Butler won their last game over a Division I opponent.
That streak was far too long for the two-time national runners-up.
In improbable fashion, Butler ended that streak today in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit to earn a 67-65 win over Purdue. Andrew Smith’s tip-in with one second left saved the day for Butler.
Perhaps it saved their season as well.
Butler was already a woeful—by Butler standards—4-6 entering today. Granted, three of those losses were to Louisville, Indiana and Xavier, all currently top 20 teams.
However, they had also lost to non-household names such as Evansville and Ball State. Also, with a West Coast trip to play Gonzaga and Stanford looming, Butler was staring at a possible 4-9 record going into Horizon League play at the end of December.
Purdue came in at 9-2, poised to crack the Top 25 with another win. The Boilermakers’ only losses were to Alabama and Xavier, both Top 25 teams.
It did not seem like today would be the time for things to begin turning around Butler.
In the first half, that notion was supported. At one point in the first half, Purdue was up by 15, which was trimmed to 11 by halftime.
However, Butler dug deep in the second half, thanks to their calling card, half-court defense.
After consistently allowing far too many transition opportunities in the first half, the Bulldogs began forcing Purdue to work hard in the half court to get shots.
They also kept Lewis Jackson in front of them, not allowing him to attack the basket and get to the foul line.
Butler had Purdue right where they wanted them, and they gradually rallied to tighten the ballgame.
After a basket by Purdue’s Terone Johnson put Purdue up by nine with nine minutes to play, Butler held Purdue without a field goal the entire rest of the game.
Eventually, Butler took the lead in the final minute, and ultimately won on Smith’s tip-in off Roosevelt Jones’ missed shot.
Just ask Florida, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, and Syracuse—teams that Butler beat in the last two NCAA Tournaments—if you let Butler hang around long enough, you’re in trouble.
This year’s team does not have quite the same personnel or experience as the last two Butler squads, but they still know what they need to do to win.
This win came at just the right time for Butler. Their upcoming West Coast games will be yet a couple more challenges on Butler’s schedule.
A win over Purdue, who is probably as good as both of those teams, may give the Bulldogs the confidence to steal a win in one of those two games.
Perhaps more importantly, the win today means Brad Stevens’ team will avoid a long losing streak heading into conference play later this month.
Even with the win today, there’s very little chance of Butler having what it takes to earn an NCAA at-large bid in March. This year’s team route to returning to the NCAAs lies in winning the Horizon League tournament.
They need to be ready to do serious damage in conference play, in order to position themselves as best as possible for a possible NCAA and Final Four run.
Beating Purdue was technically a resume win for Butler, but more importantly, it’s a confidence win.
The name on the jersey is the same as it was the last two years.
This win should help remind players of who they are, and how they can win consistently through the rest of this season.
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