The short-handed Butler Bulldogs (1-1) faced off against the Indiana Hoosiers (4-2) in the Crossroads Classic, and while head coach LaVall Jordan’s squad came up a little short, falling 68-60, his team fought and competed.
Prior to tipoff, the Bulldogs announced less than 24 hours ago that transfer Bo Hodges is academically ineligible for the entirety of the 2020-21 season. Hodges was expected to be another experienced guard (2x All-Southern Conference formerly for ETSU), who could create his own shot and become of Butler’s primary scorers this season.
Otherwise, the Bulldogs were also without senior leader, point guard Aaron Thompson (knee), and it showed on both sides of the court.
Don’t get me wrong, this Bulldogs’ loss was still very encouraging–all things considered.
While there aren’t ‘moral victories’ in sports, Butler fans can take great consolation in the fact that their freshmen got meaningful minutes and contributed: both Chuck Harris (6 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and a steal) and Myles Tate (10 points, 2 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks) started in the backcourt, while fellow freshman JaKobe Coles was the first big off the bench, adding 10 points, 4 rebounds, and a block.
The future is bright at Butler, and all three of those freshman (with Myles Wilmoth getting a few minutes off the bench as well) showed why this was the highest ranked Bulldogs’ freshman class in program history–showing both poise and production beyond their years.
This is a bit of a rebuilding season for the Bulldogs (despite having a senior Thompson and forward Bryce Nze, and junior Bryce Golden), and giving those freshmen meaningful minutes early on, will only accelerate their growth and development from a playing experience perspective–making them more battle-tested and big game ready for future collegiate seasons.
Still, the Bulldogs missed Thompson on Saturday afternoon.
Both from a defensive perspective for the All-Big East shutdown guard, as Hoosiers sophomore guard Armaan Franklin scored 20 points, and from an offensive perspective, as Butler lost a 37-32 halftime lead and struggled shooting overall in the second half.
The Bulldogs don’t have a go-to scorer this season, and while the team kept force feeding the basketball to its upperclass big men in the paint, Nze and Golden, the pair shot a combined 6-24 (25%) from the field and couldn’t consistently convert around the rim.
Thompson isn’t necessarily a great one-on-one scorer, but he’s Butler’s undisputed floor general, who has a wealth of playing experience and could’ve settled down his squad, dictated the tempo/pace, and generated easier scoring looks for his teammates by his ability to craftily dribble-drive and kick in the paint and distribute the basketball all together–boosting the Bulldogs’ overall offensive ball movement.
Thompson may have helped the Bulldogs close this one out, and there was no doubt he was sorely missed.
Still, Butler was largely competitive.
The Dawgs’ inexperienced, but hungry freshmen impressed.
And for a Butler team that’s played seemingly two games after around a month-long layoff, it’s okay that the retooling squad suffered a close loss to a quality IU team when their freshman held their own, and the Bulldogs simply ran out of steam late.