INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Butler reverted to its old tricks Thursday night.
The 21st-ranked Bulldogs used 3-pointers to open up the inside game, took care of the basketball and stifled Wright State’s offense. Even the result looked familiar.
Matt Howard scored 14 points, Gordon Hayward had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Butler used a balanced scoring attack to roll past an old Horizon League nemesis 64-48.
“We don’t change how we play, what’s important is that we have to play inside-out,” Howard said.
Or in this case, outside-in.
The Bulldogs (13-1, 4-0) connected on seven of their first 10 shots, making five 3-pointers in the first half before turning to Howard’s post-up talents in the second half.
Just like last season.
And while it seemed like another prototypical Butler victory, complete with only eight turnovers, this team’s look has undergone dramatic changes.
Despite starting three freshmen and a sophomore, Butler has won five straight games, 15 in a row over conference foes and 11 straight at home.
Wright State coach Brad Brownell sees no sign of a letdown or a slip.
“They just ran their stuff, and I thought they executed well,” he said. “When that first 3 goes in, it makes you feel good and the game comes a little easier for you. Every coach in here will tell you, you have to defend the 3, but that’s easier said than done against these guys.”
Wright State (8-8, 2-3) got a firsthand lesson in why it’s so tough.
The Raiders arrived in Indianapolis riding a six-game winning streak and confident they could hand Butler yet another loss in this Horizon League rivalry. Wright State had accounted for three of the Bulldogs’ last nine losses.
But Wright State never got the chance, thanks to Butler’s long-range shooters and staunch interior defense.
It took the Bulldogs less than 8 minutes to build an 18-7 lead, and with the defense forcing Wright State into a perimeter game, things continually got worse.
Butler followed its opening barrage with a 14-3 run that made it 34-14 with 3:33 left in the half, with the Bulldogs making as many 3s (five) as Wright State had field goals. Only Todd Brown with 13 points reached double figures for the Raiders.
“We just got beat early, to be honest,” Brownell said. “Butler came out and made shots, and that’s not good. When we got behind, it was tough sledding for us because we couldn’t put anything together.”
Another problem: Wright State’s top two scorers, Cory Cooperwood and John David Gardner, were in early foul trouble and neither scored in the first half.
Then, after closing the half with seven straight points, Butler rebuilt a 41-23 lead just 2 1/2 minutes into the second half.
Finally, the Raiders, who were 5-of-19 from 3-point range, woke up.
They used a 9-2 run to get within 43-32, survived yet another Butler scoring flurry and then closed to 50-42 with 7:25 left when Cooperwood and Gardner hit consecutive shots. It was Cooperwood’s only basket all night, and Gardner finished with six points.
Yet it was close enough to make Butler coach Brad Stevens flinch.
“You never feel comfortable with these guys,” he said. “The bottom line is we shot the ball or got fouled on every possession except eight tonight and that’s a formula for success in my book.”
Butler demonstrated how effectively Stevens’ formula works.
The Bulldogs answered Wright State’s final charge by scoring nine straight points to take a 59-42 lead and relied on that deliberate offense to shorten the game and seal the victory although it had only eight baskets in the second half.
“We felt like we had to hold them to 40 points because last year 43 points won the game,” Howard said. “Our guys are shooting the ball so well, it’s opening things up for us inside. That’s how we play.”