101-64. That was the score of the Butler-Nova Southeastern game Tuesday night.
Granted, NSE is an undersized Division II school from Florida, but the Bulldogs exhibited just how potent their offense can be.
In Butler’s first 100-point game in 12 years, 14 of 15 Bulldogs scored at least one basket.
Leading the way was sophomore guard Kellen Dunham with 16, all of which came in the first half. Senior Khyle Marshall scored 13, and senior Erik Fromm put in eight.
But the big story was the freshmen. The highly touted Elijah Brown, an LA native, racked up 11 points and five assists, hitting two threes and going a perfect 3-for-3 from the free throw line.
Brown could be the scoring spark that the Bulldogs are looking for after losing star player Roosevelt Jones for the season due to a wrist injury on the team’s trip to Australia over the summer.
Another impressive freshman performance came from big man Nolan Berry. The 6’10” center had a game reminiscent of what Bulldog fans saw from 2013 graduate Andrew Smith. Berry had 11 points and six boards.
The most Smith-esque part was when he stepped out to hit a three, an aspect of his game that he also displayed last week in the Blue-White scrimmage game, a part of the new Big East Tip-Off show on Fox Sports 1.
While the Bulldogs lit up the scoreboard and seemed fairly impressive, it’s important to keep in perspective who they were playing. And it’s important to keep in perspective who they’re going to play this year.
With the jump to the newly realigned Big East – Butler’s third conference in as many years – they face quite the challenge this year.
But that’s not to say that they aren’t up to the challenge. Butler has plenty of pieces to finish much higher than their preseason projection of 9th in the Big East.
One of those pieces doesn’t even play. That would be first-year coach Brandon Miller. Miller was hired as an assistant last spring and was named head coach after Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics.
After Tuesday’s game Miller said he had early morning jitters, but felt comfortable once they got underway.
“It was a good experience,” Miller said of his debut. “The feeling hit me when I walked out on the floor for the first time before the game. Once the ball gets tipped and the game starts going, you’re just coaching the game.”
Miller was impressed with the play of the freshmen, particularly on the defensive side, and particularly Brown and guard Rene Castro.
As impressed as he may be, though, the team as a whole has a lot of work to do. Berry missed a few assignments, and needs to toughen up before they get into the regular season, let alone the Big East. Marshall and Fromm will also need to have a big presence.
Junior Alex Barlow, a good perimeter defender, showed that his toughness on the defensive side is still there. He hit the floor for a loose ball just 29 seconds into the game, and seemed to be everywhere when he was on the floor.
But the Bulldogs do look like they’ll be a lot better than anyone is giving them credit for. Dunham will likely lead the way. He was a solid player last year and looked much sharper Tuesday. One of his biggest points of improvement will be getting rid of his silly traveling calls, and knowing when to pass instead of pump fake into an ill-advised shot.
After losing one of the nation’s best three-point shooters in Rotnei Clarke, Dunham looks to have just as hot a hand.
In the postgame press conference Dunham was asked if he thought he’d have the green light to shoot the three, and he said he certainly thinks he does.
Miller agreed, saying that Dunham “can put the ball in the basket.”
“He can shoot it from three, and he can shoot it from deep,” Miller said. “He can put the ball on the floor and he can create for himself and for teammates. He’s a very good offensive player.”
Perhaps Miller’s best quote about Dunham’s value to the team was, “We’d be crazy not to utilize him”
The heart of the team lies in the seniors, Fromm and Marshall. Marshall let out a roar after an alley-oop, showing that energy Bulldog fans love to see from him. And Fromm’s still got his range – the Dawgs have made a living on big men who can shoot the three, and that looks to be the case again with Fromm and Berry.
One of the biggest surprise players this year could be junior Jackson Aldridge. Stevens gave him a chance his freshman and sophomore years, and that didn’t pan out so well, only averaging 3.7 points and .8 points, respectively.
On Tuesday Aldridge went 2-for-2 from three-point range and 2-for-4 at the free throw line for eight points. He also dished out two assists, including an alley-oop to Marshall.
Aldridge could end up playing a big role off the bench if he has improved his shot like he seemed to show against NSE.
His defense has always been there, but he’ll also need to take care of the ball, as he has 70 career turnovers.
The freshmen will be a big part of the team, though, which could be good for Miller as he starts with a fresh crop of kids who didn’t learn under Stevens.
All six freshmen, including two walk-ons scored on Tuesday. Aside from Berry and Brown, the two freshmen likely to have a role off the bench are Castro (four points, two assists Tuesday) and big man Andrew Chrabascz (four points, four rebounds).
Lastly, a position in question is the point guard. Miller played three different players there – Aldridge, Castro and Barlow, a former walk-on. Miller thought all three played well, and said that situation will work itself out in practice.
The front-runner for the point position, however is Barlow. He’s got more experience than any other, and played in every one of Butler’s games last season. And let’s not forget his poise. He earned himself a scholarship spot with his floating buzzer beater to knock off No. 1 Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last December.
Butler has one more exhibition game to figure a few things out. They face Stevens’ alma mater Depauw Saturday at 2 p.m. The flowing Saturday they open the regular season with Lamar, coached by Bob Knight’s son Pat.