In a game where every Butler fan experienced each of the seven emotions:
The Butler Bulldogs found a way to regroup, stay composed, and most importantly, grind out a difficult road win, beating St. John’s 60-58 in the closing seconds to end the year 2019–escaping New York in the New Year’s Eve night.
It was clearly a tale of two halves for Butler.
After both teams were tied up at 14-14 with 7:45 left in the first half–each having a tough night shooting, Butler went on a 23-2 run to close the first half–led by the hot hands of both Kamar Baldwin (14 points) and Sean McDermott (10 points).
In the first half, Baldwin took a difficult tumble following a made layup and injured his ankle with 13:53 left in the first half, and while he left the game, he showed no signs of being worse for wear upon his return–having made three, three pointers to enter halftime–clearly on fire.
Butler was playing dominant defense, they were solving the full-court pressure of the Johnnies handedly, and their shots were starting to consistently fall through the net.
This one looked like it was in the bag at halftime.
However, in the second half, Butler clearly unraveled when it came to handling St. John’s full-court pressure. Baldwin went to the bench, presumably because his injured ankle was really bothering him–which only exasperated the Bulldogs’ ball security issues.
The Bulldogs committed an uncharacteristic sixteen 2nd half turnovers and lost their large lead–even fell behind, following a shocking 37-9 St. John’s 2nd half run.
After their 2nd half implosion, Butler was down 58-53 with 3:08 left in the game when Jordan Tucker (12 points) hit a pair of free throws, and Baldwin–who returned after a lengthy absence (and is left handed), somehow made a highly contested playground, right-handed (one handed) floater to pull the Bulldogs within 1 point, down 57-58 with 2:01 left in regulation.
On the ensuing possession, Butler had a big defensive stop, and backup forward Christian David--a 27.8% 3 pt. shooter on the season and who’s purely out there for his defense, hit a clutch “Robert Horry–like 3 point shot” with 0:43 seconds left to pull the Bulldogs ahead again 60-58.
It would be the would-be game-winning three for the Bulldogs, and it came from arguably one of the least likely of potential heroes.
However, that’s been the story all season for Butler.
Each of their players have stepped up. It’s been a total collective, team effort.
Butler would get a stop after challenging a Rasheem Dunn missed layup, and while Baldwin got the defensive rebound, the referees called a questionable jump ball–giving St. John’s the basketball right back with a chance to either tie or win the game.
However, the stingy defense of the Bulldogs once again rose to the occasion and forced St. John’s wing LJ Figueroa to take a very difficult game-winning three to end the game–which he fortunately missed.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Bulldogs gritted out a narrow win in a tough road environment to start Big East conference play and are the last team to win in the past decade before starting the New Year (*with the final scheduled tip-off in 2019*).
Even given the tumultuous, highs and lows of this game (and the advanced aging process of five years), Butler held the Red Storm to shooting 34.5% from the field (20-58) and 18.2% from 3 point range (4-22).
They outrebounded St. John’s by 22 rebounds, 46-24, but what led the Red Storm’s surprising 2nd half surge was turnovers: Butler committed a whopping 24 turnovers (17 more turnovers than St. John’s).
It was nice to see All-Big East guard Kamar Baldwin get back on track shooting-wise for the Bulldogs, who had just 10 points total in the Bulldogs’ prior three games on a combined 4 of 28 shooting (14.3%) entering this one.
Baldwin finished with 19 points (7-13 FG, 5-8 3 PT) to close out the year.
Consider his mini-shooting slump busted.
However, his injury status will be a major concern for the #11 Bulldogs (now 13-1), as they take on the Creighton Blue Jays (11-2), Saturday 12 pm EST (FS1) at Hinkle Fieldhouse to kick-off 2020.