Thanksgiving isn’t the only glorious thing that comes with November. There are many great things about the 11th month, especially the return of college basketball.
Indianapolis saw just that Saturday night as the Butler Bulldogs got back into regular season action with a 89-58 blowout win over Lamar.
They also saw the regular season debut of Brandon Miller, taking over for Brad Stevens as he now leads the Boston Celtics.
Miller said he “felt great” walking into a nearly sold out Hinkle Fieldhouse for his debut.
“What made the win really special was the atmosphere,” Miller said. “When you come into Hinkle Fieldhouse and you see it packed to the very top, and you see the Dawg Pound the way it was, for that to be the first win of the year, for our team to be 1-0 is terrific.”
There has been so much talk over the offseason and the past few weeks about the six incoming freshmen. But Saturday night the old guys stole the show.
Seniors Khyle Marshall and Erik Fromm anchored the Bulldogs with 18 and 10 points, respectively. Marshall also brought in 13 rebounds, racking up his sixth career double-double.
Butler got off to a bit of a slow start, never leading by more than six in the first half. But the Bulldogs got off to a hot start in the second half, opening it on an 18-6 run.
Marshall electrified a nearly sold out Hinkle Fieldhouse with a put-back dunk, soon followed by another offensive rebound, showing Bulldog fans that he could be the post-presence they’ve been searching for.
Marshall said the team talked about their presence down low in the locker room at halftime, and they decided to take advantage of it.
“At halftime we realized we could have got in there more, so we really made a big emphasis on that in the second half and it worked out really well for us,” Marshall said.
Fromm also asserted himself as a force, not only down low, but also reassured Hinkle that’ he’s still got range with a three pointer.
Marshall received a standing ovation from the Hinkle crowd as he came out of the game after his put-back and several offensive rebounds. Marshall said he appreciated it and knows he will have to step up as a senior leader.
“It was a lot of fun, especially like coach Miller said, with the atmosphere,” Marshall said. “This is (my) last go around, so you’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”
But the veteran big men weren’t the only ones with impressive performances. Junior forward Kameron woods had 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, solidifying his role as a starter.
And sophomore guard Kellen Dunham had a quiet 13 points.
But perhaps the most surprising performance came from junior Aussie guard Jackson Aldridge off the bench. He had nine points, two assists, a steal, and quite impressively no turnovers.
Aldridge said defensive adjustments were made for the backcourt at halftime, which is really what led to the offensive explosion.
“I think in the first half, we were a little bit sloppy,” Aldridge said. “(Nimrod) Hillyard and (Donovan) Ross were just killing us in the first. We weren’t getting into our gaps and we weren’t getting into the paint to easily, so we talked about that as a bunch at halftime.”
“I can tell you they didn’t score anywhere near what they did in the first half,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge could see significant playing time with the departure of Rotnei Clarke and absence of Roosevelt Jones (suffered season-ending broken wrist during team’s summer trip to Australia). Aldridge has taken his time developing into what could be an important bench player who can provide an energy boost and a solid performance each game.
The freshmen did their fair share as well, as Rene Castro, Elijah Brown, Nolan Berry, Andrew Chrabascz and walk-on Michael Volovic all scored.
Marshall spoke highly of Berry and Chrabascz, two young post players, saying their energy and performance comes from seeing what he and other leaders do on the floor.
“They’ve done a really good job for us, going all the way back to Australia,” Marshall said. “I think it’s just them trying to mimic what the starters are doing, if not beat that intensity.”
“I know, myself as a freshman I was doing my best to beat Matt Howard’s intensity, and as hard as that is to do, that’s what I strived to do,” Marshall said. “I think those guys are doing the same thing as freshmen as well, looking up to me making big plays and effort plays, and they just want to match that intensity.”
The Bulldogs were pegged to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big East by the conference’s coaches. But make no mistake. The Dawgs have the potential to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.
This is certainly a step up from the A-10 (and most definitely the Horizon League), but as the pressure to compete has risen, it seems like the Bulldogs’ drive and potential has also risen.
Jones’ absence will be a tough hump to get over, but it seems as Miller has a good core to work with in his starters, as well as bench players.
The Bulldogs’ next task will be Saturday against Princeton, last year’s Ivy League runner-up. The Tigers open their season against Florida A&M on Sunday, and bring some size to the floor with seven players at 6’8” or above.
That size will be a good measuring stick for Marshall and Fromm and the rest of the team.
“The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Khyle Marshall and Erik Fromm is their leadership ability,” Miller said. “Those guys have played in big games, and to have that experience night in and night out being able to compete at a really high level.”
Tip off is at 8 p.m. from Hinkle.