On Campus: Butler-Purdue
One of the biggest surprises in men’s college basketball kept rolling yesterday as Butler recovered from its only loss of the season to down Purdue 68-65 in the opener of the annual Wooden Tradition at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Bulldogs, ranked 18th in the nation, continued their dream season with yet another victory over an Indiana state rival school. While Butler lost last weekend to Indiana State, it has already beaten Notre Dame and Indiana. Adding a win over the Boilermakers — who with six straight wins were bubbling under just below the Top 25 and had beaten Butler 12 of the past 13 times heading in — is yet another cherry on the sundae for the Bulldogs. This marks the first time since 1948-49 that the ‘Dogs managed to sweep the big three Indiana schools.
This is a team that was picked in the preseason to finish sixth in the Horizon League, yet at 11-1 now, it could move into the Top 15 this week.
You knew something special was going on with Butler when they won the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship. What I’m loving about this squad is how they are amazingly calm under pressure. Each time Purdue made a run and either cut the deficit or, on several occasions, took a slim lead, Butler would come up with a huge play to regain the advantage. It looked like the game would slip away late after back-to-back turnovers, but the Bulldogs managed to grab the lead in the final minute and they clamped down for the win.
- Butler’s backcourt is the envy of almost every team in the country. A.J. Graves and Mike Green form an exciting combo, each player capable of taking over a game. Green, a junior, is on a serious roll, having scored at least 16 points in seven straight games. His two free throws in the final 30 seconds helped seal the deal. Green had to sit out last season after transferring from Towson, but his addition this year has made a huge difference to this team.
- Graves, MVP of the NIT Season Tip-Off, is a simply phenomenal talent. He was held to 14 points last week after getting poked in the eye and suffering some blurred vision, but he more than made up for it Saturday. Graves, often compared to Steve Nash (and the similarities are striking, at least physcially), poured in 25 (on 8-for-14 shooting) and was especially dominant in the second half. The junior is now averaging a team-best 17.9 PPG. A three-year starter, Graves is virtually automatic from the line, a 98 per cent shooter coming in. He drained all five yesterday, yet failed to lift his average. How sick is that? This dude has nailed 60-of-61 from the charity stripe. The 6′1″ guard has definitely become the leader of this dog pack. For good measure, Graves also dropped in four from downtown.
- Butler Senior Brandon Crone was huge last weekend, scoring 15 points, but he struggled badly for most of the game yesterday, managing just 2-of-13 from the field and eight points overall. He missed his first nine shots, but when it was crunch time, he came through with a big layup and free throw to put Butler up 66-64 with less than a minute to play.
- Butler didn’t shoot as well yesterday (38.5 per cent) as it did last week, but was better from long distance, sinking 8-of-22.
- Carl Landry, an absolute beast for the Boilermakers in last week’s win over Missouri with 23 points and 12 rebounds, was held in check most of the day as Purdue struggled to establish an inside presence. Held to five games with knee problems last season, Landry has been a stud this year, but I only saw glimpses of it yesterday. Where was this guy who’s been the Big Ten Player of the Week three weeks running? He was held to 12, and two-thirds of those points came on free throws. Landry was also sloppy, turning it over five times.
- Purdue guard Tarrance Crump scored nine points, but he missed a three pointer that could have tied the game with seconds remaining. He also coughed the ball up four times.
- Purdue has now slipped to 8-2 and will need to rebound if it hopes to crack the Top 25.
- Butler, known for its defensive tenacity, had eight steals — three of them by Graves.
- Purdue was the home team, but considering Butler is located just five miles from Conseco, it wasn’t exactly hostile territory. The Bulldogs have now won all three games they’ve played in the Fieldhouse this year.
- The Bulldogs aren’t a big team — just one starter as tall as 6′7″ and no bench players taller than that either, so gang rebounding is a key. They weren’t very strong yesterday (-15 on the boards), but managed to eke out a win anyways. Come tournament time, however, this is going to be Butler’s Achilles’ heel.
- Turnovers were a big part of the story here as Butler had six less than Purdue. And while the Bulldogs were sloppier than normal, their turnovers didn’t seem to come back to haunt them the way Purdue’s did (19 Purdue turnovers turning into 23 points for Butler). This is no big surprise, as the Bulldogs came in second in the country with just over nine turnovers per game.
- In spending all their time trying to contain Landry, the Bulldogs forgot all about sophomore forward Gordon Watt. The defensive specialist enjoyed the finest offensive game of his career with 20 points. In beating his old mark of 14, Watt piled up 12 in the first half including eight of the Boilermakers’ first 11 points as they took an early six-point lead.
- Graves, an Indiana legend, is the third of four boys in his family to play at Butler. This guy could run for governer of the state. Graves was nailed with two early fouls, but Coach Lickliter stuck with him and the risk paid off. Graves shows tremendously ability to drive to the hoop, but is also deadly from outside.
- Speaking of Lickliter, he’s managed to win 65.4 per cent of his games since taking over Butler, the second highest winning percentage for any coach in school history. He’s very calm and cool — a demeanor that’s reflected in the team’s ability to play under pressure.
- Freshman Chris Kramer looks like a player for Purdue, bringing a lot of energy to the floor. With 12 points yesterday, he could develop into the main man off the Boilermaker bench.
- Free throw shooting is another big time strength for this Bulldog team. They were 20-of-25 yesterday and are the top free throw shooting team in the nation.
- Freshman swingman Willie Veasley enjoyed his finest game, scoring seven points, including sinking the bucket that gave Butler its first lead as part of an 11-0 run.
- Purdue showed plenty of perseverance, battling back from an 11-point deficit to regain a one-point first half lead heading into the under four minute timeout. In this stretch, Butler was falling into the one and out syndrome as Purdue was dominating the glass under its basket.
- Landry committed a foul out of frustration early in the second half. He got a bit too aggressive trying to create space for himself, and was nailed with his third, forcing the fifth-year senior (he redshirted last year) to the bench with under 16 minutes to go in the game. In the final minute, with a chance to tie the game, the Boilermakers again weren’t able to feed Landry down low.