INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Butler finished the regular season with an impressive display of defense and a renewed confidence.
Brandon Crone scored 17 points and the No. 15 Bulldogs, who had lost three of the past five games, beat Detroit 56-36 on Saturday for a share of the Horizon League championship.
“I can’t put it in words now,” Crone said. “We were disappointed last year, and two years before that. It was rough, so it’s been wonderful.”
The Bulldogs were in a similar situation last year, needing a victory in their final game, but a two-point loss to Detroit cost them a share of the title with Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This year, Butler (26-5, 13-3) missed a chance for the outright title with a loss to Loyola of Chicago on Thursday night and needed a win to tie Wright State for the regular-season crown.
The Bulldogs got it this time.
“I just kind of took what they gave me. I really wanted to attack them today,” said Crone, who had 10 points in a 6-minute run that broke the game open in the second half. “They gave me a 3, so I took it. Then I kind of closed out hard and I drove, so I was really letting them decide what I did, actually.”
A.J. Graves and Mike Green added 13 points each for Butler, which will be the second seed in next week’s conference tournament because of a tiebreaker. Loyola is the No. 3 seed and could play Butler again in the Horizon semifinals March 3.
Detroit (11-18, 6-10), finishing with a season-low in scoring, got nine points and 15 rebounds by Ryvon Covile. The Titans will open the conference tournament on Tuesday.
“This team is amazing. What else can you say about them?” Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. “We had lost three of the last five, but I was looking at it as we had lost five of the last 30.
“After being knocked down Thursday, they responded this way.”
The 26 wins, a Butler record for the regular season, is one short of the school’s best overall total of 27 in 2002-03, when the Bulldogs reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Detroit, which shot 28 percent, fell seven points short of its previous season low of 43 at Kansas in December. The 36 points also were a season-low for a Butler opponent, one fewer than the Bulldogs allowed in the opener at Tulane.
“Our inability to make shots did us in,” Detroit coach Perry Watson said. “We haven’t had a game all season where we couldn’t make a perimeter shot. It leads to a struggle.”
Ten of the Titans’ 14 field goals were on layups or offensive rebounds. Three of the other four baskets were on 3-pointers.
“Ryvon is a tough matchup for everybody in the league, but when you’re not making shots, they can start guarding him with three and four people. And our misses gave them opportunities to get points in transition.”
The Bulldogs threatened a runaway, taking an 18-3 lead in the first 9 minutes of the game. Butler went cold after that, however, and managed only two free throws by Graves over the next 10 minutes.
The Titans, meanwhile, cut into the lead by taking the ball inside. All seven of their first-half baskets were on layups, including consecutive baskets by Covile, Brandon Cotton and Justin Sample that sliced Butler’s lead to 18-9. After the two free throws by Graves, Covile hit one of two free throws and Cotton and Zach Everingham scored from underneath to make it 20-14.
A layup by Willie Veasley ended Butler’s scoring drought with just over a minute left in the period.
Covile, the league’s rebounding leader at 10.7 boards, had 11 of his 15 in the first half, including one he put back for a score just before a long 3-point heave by Green at the buzzer gave Butler a 25-16 lead at the break.
Detroit came within four points early in the second half, but a drive to the basket by Graves and a 3-pointer by Crone started an 18-4 run that broke the game open. A trey by Graves gave the Bulldogs their first 20-point lead with 6 minutes left, and the Titans came no closer than 16 points the rest of the way.
“We got some defensive stops, but we still didn’t get our offense going,” Watson said.
The game was interrupted in the second half when the Hinkle Fieldhouse fire alarm inadvertently went off twice. The game was stopped briefly until the alarm was silenced, although strobe lights continued flashing around the fieldhouse for several minutes while both teams waited on the court.
There was no fire, and the game was resumed without incident for the final 6 minutes.