While it was certainly not the result they were looking for, we learned a lot about the Butler Bulldogs over the holiday weekend, as they finished in fourth place at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.
They opened the tournament with a 76-69 win over Washington State on Thanksgiving Day.
Sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall displayed a couple of things. The biggest thing is, they can score. Another thing realized in that game is that they are going to have to put the team on their back if the Bulldogs are going to have a successful season.
They each put up career highs, Dunham with 32 and Marshall with 30.
Kameron Woods, Alex Barlow, Erik Fromm and Andrew Chrabascz were the only other Bulldogs who scored.
While it’s a good sign to see those two putting in a lot of work, the scoring will need to be a lot more balanced throughout the year.
The scoring was a lot more balanced the next day, as the Bulldogs nearly knocked off Player of the Year candidate and No. 5 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys came away with a 69-67 win.
Freshman Elijah Brown led the way with 15 points and Barlow and Kameron Woods each added 12. Barlow also had four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Dunham and Marshall were held in check with nine and eight, respectively.
Smart led all scorers with 17 and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Bulldogs trailed 44-30 at halftime and outscored the Cowboys 23-12 over the first ten minutes of the half to get back in it.
It was 66-57 with 5:30 to go and Butler went on a 10-1 run to pull the game within one point with just under two minutes to go. Both teams went cold down the stretch, and missed many opportunities to capitalize.
OSU made one of two free throws with seven seconds left. The Bulldogs were out of timeouts and couldn’t set anything up, which led to Brown heaving a desperation three pointer that got blocked as time expired.
In the third-place game on Sunday Butler was neck and neck with LSU the whole game, but fell short 70-68 in overtime.
Dunham and Marshall were back in a groove with 20 and 17, respectively.
Butler had a 61-58 lead with 12 seconds left after two Fromm free throws. Then Anthony Hickey hit a deep three to tie the game with five seconds left.
The Bulldogs opted not to call a timeout, and Barlow barely missed a running three pointer as time expired.
The Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 9-7 in OT. Butler’s only points in the extra period came off free throws.
Through six games this year the Bulldogs have had four close games, two in overtime. They’re 2-2 in those games.
While they were on the wrong end of two of them this weekend, the Bulldogs have shown some pretty solid game management down the stretch. But that’s not to say that first-year coach Brandon Miller doesn’t have a lot of room for improvement.
But they have been able to hang around in games and compete with the big guys, which will be very important as they get into conference play in their first year in the new-look Big East.
A lot of doubts could have been shaken had they beaten Oklahoma State and gotten the opportunity to face No. 21 Memphis. But nonetheless, the Bulldogs sit at 5-2 with only one real challenge before conference play begins on New Year’s Eve with Villanova at home. They play Purdue at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in the Crossroads Classic on Dec. 14.
The Bulldogs have showed signs of a tournament-worthy team, but have also shown some worrying signs. One of those signs comes from the free throw line, with 64.5 percent. They shot 83 percent in the Old Spice Classic, which is solid. But they missed a few key free throws late in games, and have also had that problem throughout the year.
Butler has the potential to be a good three-point shooting team, but has not lived up to that potential yet. They’re at 33 percent on the year, but have made some pretty crucial threes.
They’ll most likely finish somewhere near the middle of the Big East, much higher than the Big East coaches’ projection of 9th. But they’ll need to work on free throws and three-pointers. They’re pretty sound as far as turnover and rebound margins go, but they’ll need to improve over the next month before they get running with the big boys.