For the Bulldogs, the game was never in question, as Butler got off to a quick 18-4 start–thanks to the hot shooting of Sean McDermott, Bryce Nze, and Jordan Tucker among others–and never really looked back.
Speaking of Nze, he was the standout performer for the Bulldogs, finishing with 18 points (6-14 FG), 10 rebounds, and a block.
The redshirt junior transfer has been a revelation so far at starting power forward for the Bulldogs, providing them much needed quickness, athleticism, rebounding, and physicality to their frontcourt.
Nze won’t be mistaken for an “above the rim flyer” anytime soon, but he plays with high energy, a tremendous motor, and goes after every rebound with reckless abandonment. He provides Butler with an actual traditional power forward, which is something that they sorely lacked last season.
Butler also appears that it could be on the verge of getting a breakout season from sophomore center Bryce Golden, who played sparingly as a freshman last year.
He was coming off a strong performance against IUPUI where he had 17 points and 8 rebounds, and even though he didn’t stuff the stat sheet in this one, finishing with 5 points and 6 rebounds, it’s easy to see that Golden has really transformed his body in a good way during the offseason.
He could provide the Bulldogs a rugged, interior presence that this team really hasn’t had since big man Tyler Wideman graduated.
As for the rest of the game, starting junior point guard Aaron Thompson was a surgeon in this one, picking apart the Privateers’ defense for 10 assists to go along with 10 points.
It’s clear that the Butler offense is emphasizing more backcuts as a way to generate better ball movement and more easy scores around the rim this season. To his credit, Thompson took full advantage of it.
Both starting small forward Sean McDermott and shooting guard Jordan Tucker really shot the ball well, finishing 3-4 and 4-8 from 3 point range respectively. Each was able to get clean looks in rhythm within the offense.
Otherwise, senior star Kamar Baldwin (ribs) actually played, but came off the bench in this one, playing 14 minutes and scoring 4 points on 2-3 FG.
To be honest, it was surprising to see Baldwin play at all, but perhaps the Bulldogs’ training staff just wanted to give him a few minutes to see how his aggravated rib cartilage responded.
The Bulldogs also gave its two prized freshman, John-Michael Mulloy and Khalif Battle, some burn in this one with 12 minutes a piece. Each freshman scored two points and showed some flashes of being rotational contributors this season.
Henry Baddley also chipped in 7 points (3-4 FG) in 16 minutes of action, as it was good to see the reserve senior wing recovered from a concussion.
It’s hard to gauge just how good the Bulldogs exactly are against exhibition level competition to start their regular season schedule, but it looks to me like this year’s team is quite a bit improved.
Hosting Minnesota at Hinkle Fieldhouse this Tuesday will be the Bulldogs’ first true test however.