No. 11 Butler hangs on to beat Evansville

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Butler coach Brad Stevens didn’t even bother to look at the stat sheet Saturday night.

No reason to.

After watching the No. 11 Bulldogs struggle for 40 minutes, then allowing Evansville freshman Colt Ryan to single-handedly shoot the Aces back into contention in the final minute, Stevens didn’t need any more evidence about how ugly this 64-60 win was.

“Yuck!” he said before setting the paper aside.

How bad was it?

Butler (3-0) built its reputation on deft shooting, a penchant for hitting 3-pointers and an uncanny ability to make free throws. The Bulldogs were sub-par on all three at Evansville.

They finished the game 14 of 50 from the field, 5 of 18 on 3s, and missed two free throws in the final 14 seconds that proved nearly as costly as the late defensive lapses.

Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward eventually sealed the victory by each making 1 of 2 free throws. Mack finished with 17 points. Hayward, Butler’s leading scorer, opened the game with two baskets but didn’t make another one all night. He finished with 15 points.

Horizon League player of the year Matt Howard had 10 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out late.

“I told them you’ve got to figure out a way to make par when you hit the ball into the woods,” Stevens said. “I told them Tiger Woods is a champion because of it.”

Butler did figure it out, barely.

With 1 minute to go, the Bulldogs still had a seemingly comfortable 56-46 lead.

That’s when Ryan began his impersonation of Reggie Miller.

The freshman hit Evansville’s first 3-pointer of the game with 59.8 seconds left and followed that by making a 7-foot runner, drawing a foul and making the free throw to get Evansville (2-1) within 58-52.

After Bryan Bouchie hit a 3-foot jumper, Ryan connected on another 3, then stole the inbound pass, turned and hit yet another 3 with 16.8 seconds left to suddenly make it Butler 62, Evansville 60.

Fans and players in Evansville seemed about as stunned as the Bulldogs, who spent the timeout just trying to get things back in working order.

“We thought the whole game we could win and we weren’t going to quit, we were still going to battle,” Ryan said. “Once that (comeback) happened, I think we all realized it could come true.”

Ryan did his best work late, scoring 12 of his team-high 17 points in the frenetic 59-second flurry. But he missed 3s on each of Evansville’s last two possessions, the first of which could have forced a tie.

James Haarsma added 11 points for the Aces, not enough to prevent Butler from winning its second road game this week.

The Bulldogs have now won 13 straight over Indiana schools and 23 in a row in November games, dating to a 78-74 loss to Michigan in 2006.

The close call was no solace to Evansville coach Marty Simmons, who saw his team go 3 of 15 on 3s, commit 34 fouls and 15 turnovers.

Against Butler, it was a devastating combination. The Bulldogs outscored Evansville 20-6 off turnovers and made 31 of 44 free throws, compared with 15 of 20 for the Aces.

“We’ve got to get better on defense,” Simmons said. “We’ve really got to look at that, and offensively, the first half, we just stood around way too much.”

The sluggishness made the game tough to watch.

After Evansville took a 14-12 lead midway through the half, Mack finally got the Bulldogs into a semblance of offensive rhythm by hitting a 17-footer on a fast break and Butler’s first 3 of the game to end a 7-0 run that gave the Bulldogs a 19-14 lead. Butler led 27-20 at halftime despite playing its worst half of the season.

The second half didn’t get any better.

Butler again started cold, running its streak of consecutive misses to 14, before Mack’s 3 with 17:03 to go gave Butler a 32-24 lead.

Evansville charged back, closing an 11-point deficit to 37-33 with 11:46 left.

Butler countered that with a 12-4 run that extended the lead to 53-40 with 3:36 to go and then Ryan made his run at the Bulldogs, which fell short.

“Hey, we just won a game where we shot 28 percent on the road, so obviously we had to do some good things to win,” Stevens said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to be better offensively as we go forward and I don’t see any reason why we won’t.”

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