It was the type of game many expected it to be: tough, hard nosed, and defensive oriented, but the Bulldogs found a way to grind this one out and ultimately outlast the Golden Gophers at home.
While senior Kamar Baldwin was somewhat of a question mark entering Tuesday’s contest with a rib cartilage ailment, he showed no signs of being slown down, leading the Bulldogs with 27 points (10-24), 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Quite frankly, the All-Big East guard was brilliant in this one.
Baldwin and the Bulldogs were significantly aided by the play and production of redshirt junior Bryce Nze, who looks like the type of heady, all-effort, and always tough big man that has epitomized Butler Basketball.
Nze (6’7″, 235 pounds) provided the Bulldogs with 11 points (5-7) and 8 rebounds, oftentimes going head-to-head with Minnesota star center Daniel Oturu (6’10”, 240 lbs.)–despite giving up some serious height.
Nze battled and didn’t back down an inch from Oturu, even outmuscling him at times on the low block and for rebounds. He’s been a revelation for the Bulldogs so far this season at starting power forward. What he lacks in traditional height, he makes up for it almost everywhere else.
Speaking of Oturu, the blossoming big man for the Golden Gophers almost singled-handedly kept his team in this one, finishing with 24 points (9-13), 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
Butler just didn’t seem to have an answer for his sheer size and length, as sophomore center Bryce Golden got in foul trouble, and Nze simply gave up too much size at times when matched up at center.
It’s a game the Bulldogs theoretically could’ve really used injured graduate transfer center Derrik Smits (knee), who at 7’1″, 245 pounds, may have helped Butler’s frontcourt better go toe-to-toe with Oturu defensively–even if he’s not known for his defense.
The Bulldogs also received 10 points from junior wing Jordan Tucker, who although struggled from the field (1-7), was 8 for 9 from the free throw line, and added 5 rebounds. Perhaps most notably, Tucker was left late in the game defensively, which was an area of weakness for him last season.
Minnesota isn’t a great team this year and probably won’t finish in the top half of the Big Ten Conference. However, it’s still a quality non-conference resume win for Butler against a Power 5 school–in what’s the beginning of a tough overall schedule for LaVall Jordan’s squad this season.
It gives the Bulldogs some early season momentum, and they host Wofford next on Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse–with their 53-game non-conference home win streak on the line.