INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—A.J. Graves’ answer to a shooting slump is to keep shooting.
The Butler senior hit his first four shots Saturday and finished with 16 points, his most in more than a month, and the 15th-ranked Bulldogs beat Illinois-Chicago 73-57.
“I’m not concerned about my shots,” said Graves, who averaged 8.1 points and 27 percent shooting over the previous eight games. “I’m not concerned about anything but winning.
“They gave us a great challenge. We just got some defensive stops,” he said. “When you come away with defensive stops and make some plays on the offensive end, you’re going to win some ball games.”
Graves finished 6-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-12 on 3-pointers. He also had two assists and a steal and matched his season high with five rebounds.
“Everybody wants him to do well,” first-year Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “I’ve said all along A.J.’s value is not just in making shots. It doesn’t surprise me he’s able to do all the other things.
“I don’t anticipate him to have very many slumps,” Stevens added. “When he does come out of it, it’s no surprise to myself or anyone else in the locker room.”
Matt Howard, a 6-foot-8 freshman, led Butler with 20 points, his 12th straight game in double figures.
Graves’ fourth 3-pointer ended a brief second-half comeback by the Flames (10-10, 4-5 Horizon League), then Howard scored the next six points and the Bulldogs (19-2, 8-2) took their biggest lead at 61-44 with under 8 minutes remaining.
“We gave it a good effort,” UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. “Butler’s a scrappy team. They’re going to make you run; they’re going to make you do what they want you to do, and they do it well.”
Butler never trailed, took a 13-point lead at halftime and went up 46-30 with Graves’ third 3-pointer at the start of the second half.
Josh Mayo, the nation’s leader in 3-point percentage, then started UIC’s first comeback. Two straight baskets by Karl White cut Butler’s lead to 52-44 minutes later. After the next flurry of baskets by Graves and Howard, the Flames again rallied within 65-57 before four straight free throws by Butler’s Mike Green. Willie Veasley and Green added another basket each, and UIC didn’t score the rest of the game.
“Butler invites you to drive, and then they help out,” Collins said. “They invite you to shoot from the outside, and then they help and recover. Their defense is good, and if you rush your offense, you play right into their hands.”
Green finished with 15 points and Julian Betko added 11 for Butler.
Mayo, second in the conference in scoring, led Illinois-Chicago with 19 points, and 7-footer Scott VanderMeer added 12.
Graves hit his first four shots, including two 3-pointers, during the first 10 minutes of the game. He had five points during a 12-0 run that put the Bulldogs in control, and his second 3-pointer gave Butler a 22-12 lead midway through the opening period.
Butler took its biggest lead of the first half at 31-16 with an assist by Graves on a layup by Howard.
UIC, which started the week as the nation’s top team in 3-point percentage, pulled within 37-30 late in the half on the second of four 3-pointers by Mayo. But Betko countered with a 3 for Butler, then after a miss by Chicago and a quick timeout by the Bulldogs, Betko hit another 3 just ahead of the halftime buzzer for the 43-30 lead.