It was a special night for Butler fans, as not only did their new mascot in training, Blue IV ‘debut’, but there was also a fundraising initiative for “Project 44” on behalf of the late beloved Butler big man Andrew Smith (which is truly a great and inspirational cause).
Maybe it was the later start on a Friday night, but there was a different buzz in the air that started even well before tip-off–almost like a full moon was out.
Marquette seemed to be in control during the majority of regulation, and the Golden Eagles were up 68-62 with 2:35 left in the first half–as Butler couldn’t seem to get over the figurative hump.
Butler couldn’t seem to capitalize, even when they had ample opportunities.
However, All-Big East guard Kamar Baldwin had quietly gotten going in the second half and what started out as a few made buckets turned into ‘NBA Jam’, as he was simply feeling it in crunch time–truly ‘on fire’.
He couldn’t be stopped.
Baldwin individually outscored the Golden Eagles 9-0 from the 2:21 mark–erasing a 6 point deficit into a shocking 71-68 Bulldogs lead late in regulation.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs did not foul with 0:08 seconds left in regulation (due to a mishap), and Marquette junior guard Koby McEwen drilled a three point shot to tie the game at 71-71 and send this one into overtime.
Still, Baldwin would not let his Bulldogs be denied on this special night.
He scored 29 total points in both the second half and in overtime (including three of the Bulldogs’ first four field goals in overtime)–finishing with 31 points (10-25 FG, 0-4 3 PT), 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal–simply stuffing the stat sheet in a team-high 42 minutes of action.
In a game that featured the reigning Big East Player of the Year, Markus Howard, on the historic Hinkle hardwood, it was Baldwin who actually was the best player on the court tonight for both teams.
Speaking of Howard, the Golden Eagles superstar still got his, scoring 26 points–but didn’t shoot particularly well (8-27 FG, 4-18 3 PT), and a lot of the credit should go to backup senior wing Henry Baddley (as well as Baldwin and Jordan Tucker)–all of whom took turns defending him.
While Baldwin was the clear offensive hero, it was another senior who was the “unsung hero” on Friday night.
Having been buried on the bench as of late, Baddley had played in a total of 3 minutes during Butler’s last three games.
On a night where the Bulldogs were without their best perimeter defender, starting point guard Aaron Thompson, and with First-Team All-Big East scorer Howard coming into town, it was “next man up” for the Dawgs.
It had to be.
There was no other choice.
And boy was Baddley’s defensive play brilliant tonight.
He made Howard work offensively. He had a key steal late with 1:25 left in overtime and with the Bulldogs up 80-76 that helped preserve the win.
The energetic, defensive minded senior wing finished with 10 points (4-5 FG), 3 steals, and a block in 31 minutes of surprising action.
Perhaps the best stat for Butler was that the team got to the free throw line a whopping 31 times and made 81.7% of their free throws attempts (27-31 FT)–having only shot 8 freebies at the charity stripe in their prior loss to Villanova on the road.
Butler also got significant production from another senior, small forward Sean McDermott, who shot his way out of his shooting slump, scoring 16 points (5-8 FG, 2-4 3 PT), adding 9 rebounds and 2 steals in 41 minutes.
As head coach LaVall Jordan has preached, the Bulldogs were simply “tougher, longer” and even on a night where Marquette made a ridiculous 16 three point shots on 42.1% shooting (16-38 3 PT), Butler found a way to outlast them by playing like the grittier, more polished team down the stretch en route to a victory.
It was a heck of a conference win and might be one of the most competitive, heated contests played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in recent memory.
The Bulldogs (16-4, 4-3 Big East) will take on Georgetown (12-8, 2-5 Big East) next on the road this Tuesday, 9 PM EST (CBSSN). Butler currently ranks #15 in the KenPom rankings and snapped their 3-game Big East losing streak.