INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Shelvin Mack never lost his composure or confidence in his shot.
The freshman hit five 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the second half and matched his season high with 22 points to rally No. 25 Butler from an 11-point halftime deficit in a 72-68 victory over Alabama-Birmingham on Tuesday night.
“I just kept shooting it,” said Mack who was 0-for-3 from 3-point range in the first half. “Coach always tells us that the next one is going to fall, so just keep shooting it.”
Good advice, considering he was repeatedly open behind the arc.
Yet in the first game these young Bulldogs (11-1) played since cracking the Top 25 on Monday, they came unglued.
The traditional Butler formula—being deliberate on offense, defending the 3-point line and making free throws—failed in the first half. In 20 minutes, UAB was 6-of-13 on 3s and the usually careful Bulldogs committed 10 turnovers, two fewer than their average for a game.
Yet Butler, which starts three freshmen and a sophomore, maintained its poise and thanks to Mack’s scoring flurry, got things righted in time to protect its ranking in its final tuneup heading into the heart of Horizon League play.
The comeback ruined the homecoming of UAB coach Mike Davis, who was in Indiana for the first time since resigning as coach of the Hoosiers after the 2005-06 season. It also marked the return of swingman Robert Vaden, an Indianapolis native and former Hoosiers player who transferred to continue playing for Davis.
Vaden made five 3s and finished with 23 points to lead the Blazers (8-5), while Paul Delaney III added 19 points and Lawrence Kinnard had 16.
All had better nights than Davis, who spent much of the second half imploring his Blazers to play better defense. And when Davis threw his hands straight up in the air after Channing Toney drew his fifth foul with 6:44 to go, he was called for his first technical foul of the season.
The continual defensive problems led to either wide-open looks, mostly for Mack, or fouls.
“We missed assignments,” Davis said. “We would switch on Mack, but it was a lazy switch. You know, it’s a game of runs. But you can’t put a team at the line 31 times when you shoot just seven.”
Mack ignited the comeback by hitting two 3s and two free throws in the first three minutes of the second half, trimming a 38-27 deficit to 40-37.
Less than two minutes later, Mack hit two more 3s in a seven-second span— the second after UAB was called for a foul while Mack’s first shot fell through the net. That gave Butler a 43-42 lead.
After Vaden tied the score at 45 with a 3, Mack answered with his fifth 3 at the 13:09 mark, sparking a 12-2 run that put Butler in control.
Butler coach Brad Stevens wasn’t surprised.
“That’s one of the things you notice right when you walk into the gym,” he said. “His form is picture perfect. He can really shoot it, and he’s tough to defend because he can do so many other things well, too.”
Mack finally let his teammates take care of the rest.
Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard ended the run by making three of four free throws, two courtesy of Davis’ technical, to make it 62-52 with 6:44 left.
Then the Blazers turned up the tempo and charged back.
Vaden scored four points in a 9-0 run and his fourth 3 got the Blazers within 64-63 with 3:52 to go.
But UAB had nothing left.
It missed four chances to take the lead and eventually was relegated to fouling the Bulldogs, who were shooting nearly 80 percent from the line over their first 11 games, went 6-of-8 over the final minute.
Howard finished with 19 points.
“Some of it was me, some of it was my teammates,” Mack said, grinning. “My teammates kept swinging the ball to me, and when you’re hot, they just keep giving you the ball. That’s what they did tonight.”