Playing without the injured Roosevelt Jones all of last season, Butler struggled in its inaugural season as a member of the Big East. Jones’ versatility has been a big key for Chris Holtmann’s team this season, so when he left Thursday’s NCAA tournament game against No. 11 Texas with a sprained left knee there was a great amount of concern.
However Jones’ teammates stepped forward, going on an 11-0 run in the immediate aftermath of his injury. The distance created there proved to be enough on an afternoon that saw both teams struggle offensively, with Butler winning by the final score of 56-48 in Pittsburgh. The Bulldogs, now 23-10 on the year, will face No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday with a spot in the Sweet 16 (Midwest Region) on the line.
Kellen Dunham, who struggled with his shot in the first half, hit some important shots in the second stanza and finished with 20 points but the biggest key scoring-wise for Butler was the foul line. Having struggled from the charity stripe for most of the season, Butler made 20 of its 26 attempts and outscored Texas by 12 points from the foul line. Also of note was the play of Kameron Woods, who grabbed nine rebounds and played well against Texas’ larger front line.
Butler will need to shoot at a better clip than they did against Texas if they’re to knock off the Fighting Irish, and the status of Jones will have an impact in that area. When Jones is on he can use his stocky frame to crack defenses, either getting to the basket himself or creating for his teammates. Upon his return to the game Jones still favored that left leg, so his status will be something to keep an eye on in the next couple of days.
As for Texas, they struggled to establish any kind of flow offensively against a Butler defense that aimed to cut down on the number of available possessions. Texas looked to full-court pressure to force the tempo but they were unable to get Butler out of its rhythm, and looking to Isaiah Taylor to create off of ball screens turned out to be the Longhorns’ most effective offense for most of the second half.
This season was all about rhythm, or their inability to establish it, ever since Taylor went down with a broken wrist in November for Texas. Jonathan Holmes scored 15 points to lead the way for Texas against Butler, but he alternated stretches of positive activity with periods in which it was tough to tell that he was on the floor. And the senior wasn’t the only player to have that issue against the Butler defense. As a team Texas shot 34 percent from the field, and their 15 turnovers were converted into 16 points by the Bulldogs.
With this disappointing season coming to an end, the questions will now focus on the status of head coach Rick Barnes. He did lead Texas to a Final Four appearance in 2003, but more often than not the fan base has seen its expectations unfulfilled in the years that have followed. While Butler has the immediate question of Roosevelt Jones’ knee to be concerned with, Texas will look to answer questions regarding the direction of its basketball program.