February 11, 2010

Bulldogs Clinch Horizon League Title

Gordon Hayward scored 22 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds and Butler pulled away in the second half to hand host Youngstown State a 68-57 setback and clinch its fourth consecutive Horizon League championship at the Beeghly Center on Thursday (Feb. 11).  The victory was Butler’s 14th straight, the second-longest winning streak in school history.

Hayward, coming off an eight-point performance on Monday against Loyola, took over in the second half, scoring 13 of his team-high total in the final 20 minutes.  He hit four of five shots after intermission, including two of three from beyond the three-point arc.  His 17 rebounds were the most by a Butler player in more than a decade!

“Unbelievable!  He played like a Player of the Year candidate tonight,” said head coach Brad Stevens after the game.  “We’ve had different guys step up for us like that through the year, but there’s no question tonight Gordon put us on his back in a big way”

The Bulldogs, who improved to 22-4 on the year and remained unbeaten in 15 league games, jumped to an early 16-5 lead, but Youngstown State (8-16, 2-12 HL) answered with an 18-2 run to move in front.  Senior DeAndre Mays scored eight points during the run, while junior Vytas Sulskis added six.

The Penguins’ lead stretched to as many as eight points in the first half, before Butler closed the first half with an 11-2 run.  Hayward’s conventional three-point play with four seconds remaining gave the Bulldogs a 31-30 halftime lead.

“Our guys executed pretty well once they settled down from that Youngstown State run,” stated Stevens.  “Credit (Youngstown State).  They did a good job defensively and they were extending and their pressure was good.”

The Penguins tied the game twice early in the second half, but a pair of free throws by guard Ronald Nored broke the final tie and gave Butler the lead for good at 40-38.  The Bulldogs kept the lead between four and six points, until unleashing a 15-2 run in the final five minutes to stretch the margin to 68-51.

Butler picked up double-figures scoring performances from junior Matt Howard with 11 points and senior Willie Veasley with 10.  Junior Zach Hahn and Nored each chipped in with eight.  Mays led the Penguins with 18, while Sulskis added 14.

The Bulldogs, having already clinched the No. 1 seed and the right to host the Horizon League Tournament, will try to become just the second team in league history to post a 16-0 record when they visit second place Cleveland State on Saturday, Feb. 13.  The showdown between the league’s top two teams is slated for 2 p.m. (ET) at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center.