Butler endured a long 2013-2014 season, finishing its debut campaign in the Big East 4-14 conference record and settling for a ninth-place finish. This year had an ominous start when second-year head coach Brandon Miller took a leave of absence for health reasons just days before practice began.
However, the Bulldogs have proven the Butler Way is still intact, exiting a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field with not one, but two key victories. Two days after upsetting No. 5 North Carolina, Butler held on to defeat Georgetown, 64-58, in a non-conference conference game on Friday afternoon in the Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Sandwiched between wins over the Tar Heels and Hoyas was a loss to Oklahoma in the semifinals. The Sooners dropped from the top 25 rankings this past week after being upset by fellow Big East program Creighton. You could also make the case that the Hoyas would have been ranked had they defeated Butler. So, for a team picked to finish seventh in the Big East preseason poll, a 2-1 record in the Battle 4 Atlantis not only gives an experienced group a moral boost, it also goes to show that Butler — a program that has moved from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East and has had three different coaches over the last four years — is back on the right path.
While Butler was not as talented as North Carolina and Georgetown, the experience and toughness was apparent. Interim head coach Chris Holtmann started two seniors — Kameron Woods and Alex Barlow — as well as juniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.
Butler struggled shooting the ball against the Tar Heels, but outworked North Carolina on the glass, corralling 29 offensive rebounds (compared to 26 defensive boards for UNC) leading to 19 second-chance points. Butler’s shooting percentage (27 percent through the first two games) climbed to north of 40 percent in the Bulldogs’ contest against the Hoyas, getting high-percentage shots by forcing turnovers and getting out on the fast break, and even turning made field goals for Georgetown into transition buckets.
In those two wins, Butler’s defense was able to contain the oppositions top scoring option. Marcus Paige shot 5-of-17 for 18 points (11 coming with under four minutes to play) while D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was limited to 4-of-12 from the field for a dozen points.
For Georgetown, there were positive takeaways with freshmen Isaac Copeland and Paul White going for 16 and 13, respectively. But for Butler, this was a statement weekend — in a week filled with impressive wins for the Big East — as the Bulldogs continue the Butler Way in the post-Brad Stevens era.
Butler returns stateside to take on Indiana State on Dec. 3.