On Monday night, the Butler Bulldogs fell to the Southern Illinois Salukis as the final buzzer sounded, 76-73.
The nation’s longest home non-conference winning streak of 59 games–which had been running at Hinkle Fieldhouse since 2012, was finally snapped.
The Bulldogs (1-3) have been reeling in the absence of senior point guard Aaron Thompson, who continues to remain unavailable with a knee injury, yet remains one of the program’s most indispensable cogs:
Last year’s Butler team, which had graduated All-Big East guard Kamar Baldwin and wing Sean McDermott, often didn’t look the same without Thompson in the starting lineup, so it’s no surprise that a starting lineup that now features two freshman has struggled on an even greater scale.
Don’t get me wrong.
The Bulldogs starting freshman backcourt of Myles Tate (12 points, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block) and Chuck Harris (22 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, a steal, and a block) played well and beyond their years given the unusual circumstances (and that circumstance being the long layoff caused by COVID-19, which has significantly limited the Bulldogs’ ability to practice as a team and play games during the past month).
Both young guards look like core players for the program going forward and have been impressive to say the least.
Led by Harris and Tate, the Bulldogs rallied down from as many as 18 points to put their team within one score of tying the game, with the ball in the Dawgs’ possession in the closing seconds. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs failed to generate a clean three point look (presumably to either one of their best shooters, Jair Bolden or Harris), and freshman big JaKobe Coles had to heave a highly contested three point shot before the buzzer sounded–that wasn’t particularly close.
The Bulldogs had no remaining timeouts left to try to draw up another look once the set bogged down.
Right now, the Bulldogs miss their senior floor general, Thompson, especially given their inability to really gel as a team because of the significantly diminished practice time and games. He has a wealth of experience in the Bulldogs system to draw upon, can drive-and-dish to his teammates, and has a way of facilitating better ball movement all together.
He’s also an All-Big East caliber defender at guard, as the Bulldogs allowed the Salukis to shoot 54.7% from FG and 47.4% from 3 point range as a team respectively.
At guard, the Bulldogs otherwise have Tate and Harris, as well as the grad transfer Bolden, who himself is still trying to learn his teammates and Butler’s systems (both offensive and defensive). All three are good players, but all three are also brand new to the program.
Freshman are fun, but not always the best at closing out games. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs should continue playing all of their freshman like Tate and Harris heavy minutes in what clearly appears to be a rebuilding season for the program to accelerate their future growth and development. Plus, it’s not as though there’s much of an alternative right now.
However, the team clearly misses Thompson, whose ability to pass, drive into the paint, control the tempo/ pace, defend on the perimeter, and pressure the ball was sorely missed tonight by Butler in their spirited, yet ultimately failed comeback attempt.
With him, the Bulldogs are just better.
Without him, it’s not the same squad.