If this were March, we’d be talking about “survive and advance” for the Butler Bulldogs.
But this is November. While wins are good, the Bulldogs have barely won their last three games.
Princeton came down to one last defensive stop. Vanderbilt came down to one last defensive stop.
Saturday was more of the same. While they’re not exactly advancing, the Bulldogs did survive in their road debut against Ball State.
Butler (4-0) walked away with a 59-58 win that saw Ball State (2-2) get two shots off in the final 12 seconds before Kameron Woods came down with a game-sealing rebound to secure a double-double.
Butler coach Brandon Miller said while it wasn’t pretty, it was a great game.
“It was a tough, hard-fought game,” Miller said. “It was a good college basketball game.”
“The way we came out and started the game, I thought we were ready to play. But Ball State battled back, we were down 11 points in the second half of that game,” Miller said. “We talked about poise and toughness in the locker room before the game started, and I thought our guys had great poise and toughness in the second half.”
But unlike the Vanderbilt game, Butler didn’t exactly blow the lead. This time they came back in the second half.
The Cardinals led 30-23 after a sloppy first half. The Bulldogs hit a cold spell in the middle of the half, as they went 7:23 without a field goal.
The Cardinals stretched that lead to 42-31. And that’s when the Bulldogs went on their run. Butler took a 45-42 lead at the 9:00 mark with a three-pointer from freshman Elijah Brown.
“We’ve had a couple games like this,” Miller said. “We’ve had a couple games where it’s been the other way around and we’ve been up and the other teams fought back and we’ve been able to swing the momentum back towards our way at the end, and now we were on the other end of that,” Miller said.
Brown finished with 13 points off the bench.
Leading the way for Butler was senior Khyle Marshall, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Ball State pulled within one at 59-58 with 1:20 to go on a Mark Alstork three-pointer.
Marshall missed two free throws with 12 seconds to go, which allowed the Cardinals one last chance.
Despite the missed free throws, Brown said Marshall is someone he looks up to as he matures, as Marshall was the clear vocal leader on the floor Saturday.
“It’s obviously important for me to fall back on the guys who are experienced,” Brown said. “I feel pretty confident in myself, but then again I’ve only played four college games at this point.”
“It helps to have those kind of guys to fall back on, with (Fromm and) Marshall. They’ve played in a national championship game, and they know what it’s like to be able to execute down the stretch and stay poised throughout the game,” Brown said. “So I just play off of them, try to feed off their energy, and run with the experienced guys, let them do their job and help me out.”
Marshall said Brown shows a lot of promise early in his career.
“Just like myself, his energy brings everyone’s energy up on the floor,” Marshall said. “He did a great job of that today.”
Butler shot 35 percent from the field, 27 percent from three-point range and 54 percent from the free throw line.
One bright spot in the box score for Butler, however, was 17 forced turnovers, which led to 23 points.
Miller said he was mostly happy with the defensive performance.
“I thought on the defensive side of the ball, that was the best side of the ball for us,” Miller said. “I wish we guarded the three-point line a little bit better, but I thought defensively as a team we played well.”
And it was a much different pace than the first few games, especially with fouls. Butler only had 16, opposed to 23 on Tuesday against Vanderbilt.
Ball State 6’9 senior center Majok Majok led all scorers with 15 and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Butler leaves Muncie undefeated preparing for the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. They tip off with a first round matchup against Washington State on Thanksgiving Day.
The Cougars are 2-1 with their lone loss coming at No. 13 Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs will face either No. 7 Oklahoma State or Purdue in the second round. The other half of the bracket features Memphis vs. Siena and LSU vs. St. Joseph’s.
Tip-off is at 2 p.m. on ESPN2 Thursday.