INDIANAPOLIS — Injuries and fouls were mounting up for key members of No. 19 Butler on Wednesday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
But, they had been in that situation before, and that made all the difference in a 66-61 victory over Xavier.
“It was a really good effort from us, and a good team win,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said. “We knew it was going to be a battle, our guys were up for it and some guys really stepped up for us.”
Butler led by nine at the half, and used a 10-2 run to start the second half to go up 17 on a lay-up by Jordan Tucker.
But on the other end of the court, Butler point guard Aaron Thompson took an inadvertent elbow to the head, causing him to miss the rest of the game.
“Perseverance has been a big word in our locker room,” Jordan said. “We have a lot of growing left to do, but in those moments, you learn a lot about your team. We have some experience in it, the IUPUI game (where Butler finished with six available players) was a great start for that, seeing where our leadership was going to be and who’s going to step up next.”
Early on, it looked like Butler could be in trouble without their point guard.
As soon as Thompson went out, Xavier went on an 11-0 run and Butler missed seven-straight shots. The Bulldogs 17-point lead was cut to six with 11:48 to go.
To make matters worse, Butler starting forward Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze were out with four fouls a piece, and the Bulldogs later lost back-up center Derrik Smits to a knee injury.
“Without a great-decision maker like Aaron, we wanted to press and make someone else handle the ball,” Xavier head coach Travis Steele said. “He is a integral part of their team on both ends of the court. He is the floor general and makes players around him much better.”
The Butler lead was eight with 8:27 to go, when Tucker stepped up.
The junior hit 3-pointers on back-to-back Butler possessions, and Butler saw its lead pushed back to 14 with under 6:00 to play.
Tucker had made just two of his last 17 3-pointers before the back-to-back makes.
“That’s a huge part of Jordan’s role. When he comes into the game, his teammates are looking for him and want him to be aggressive. I thought he rushed it in the first half, and settled into it in the second half.”
Xavier made one last push to get back into the game, cutting the Butler lead to six with 3:11 to play.
But Kamar Baldwin hit two big step-back mid-range jumpers on two of Butler’s next three possessions, pushing the lead up to nine with 1:13 to go and sealing the win.
Baldwin was just 3 of 11 from the field, but finished with 11 points, five assists and four rebounds.
“It’s hard to shut down Kamar. He is one of the better players in the entire country. He’s so slippery, he keeps on driving, slashing and probing. Our guys have great respect for him and he’s really tough.”
Butler was able to grab the lead in the first half thanks to big contributions from Henry Baddley.
Down 11-9 with 12:38 to go in the first half, Baddley hit three 3-pointers during a 15-3 run that gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Baddley had only made four 3-pointers on the season prior to Wednesday, and hadn’t scored in the last three games.
“He brings it every day in practice,” Baldwin said. “He shoots like that every day in practice honestly, and for him to come in and hit those shots, that’s what we expect and he did his job tonight.”
Sean McDermott led the Bulldogs with 14 points and six rebounds. Tucker added 10 points, with Bryce Nze scoring eight.
It was a big bounce back win for the Bulldogs after getting out-worked on Sunday afternoon in a loss to Marquette.
Jordan and Baldwin said that the team had a meeting on Monday to air things out, and thinks that it was the jolt the team needed heading into the stretch run.
The next test is Saturday afternoon at Marquette.
“It’s human nature, you start to think you have things figured out, and get away from the fundamentals,” Jordan said. “The formula isn’t hard, it’s simple. But simple is not easy, can you do it every day from here on out. Can you persevere through the tests in practices and games. It all matters, and these guys have done a great job of holding each other to a high standard.”