VALPARAISO, IND. -- Senior Willie Veasley
scored a career-high 20 points and Butler pulled away in the second
half to hand host Valparaiso a 74-69 setback and become the first
team in Horizon League history to finish with an 18-0 record.
The win lifted the #15/10 Bulldogs to 26-4 on the season.
Butler played the final regular season game without leading scorer Gordon Hayward, who was sidelined with lower back pain, and with third-leading scorer Matt Howard battling illness. But the league champion Bulldogs overcame a slow start and took control late in the second half to record their nation-leading 18th consecutive victory.
“This (win) was a tribute to a bunch of guys with tremendous resolve,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens after the game. “We gave everything we had out there tonight.’
Playing in front of a capacity crowd on “Senior Night”, the Crusaders (15-16, 10-8 HL) jumped out to a 6-0 lead and stretched the margin to 20-12 midway through the first half. But the Bulldogs rallied behind Veasley in the final 10 minutes and trimmed the lead to one, 31-30, at halftime.
Sophomore Shelvin Mack gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game with a short jumper to open the second half. But the game remained tight until the final 10 minutes, when Butler finally gained control.
Leading 53-52 with 8:28 remaining, the Bulldogs unleashed a 12-0 run to take command. Guard Shawn Vanzant started the run with a jumper, followed by single free throws from Mack and Howard. Veasley then hit back-to-back three-point field goals and Howard added two more free throws to give the Bulldogs a 65-52 advantage.
Valparaiso never recovered.
Veasley, who missed Butler's previous game with a sprained left knee, hit seven of 12 shots in the game, including four of six from beyond the three-point arc, to compile his career total. Howard scored 13 points in the second half and finished with 17, while Mack added 16. Vanzant came off the bench with a career-high nine rebounds to lead the Bulldogs to a 38-36 advantage on the boards.
Forward Cory Johnson led both teams with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
Howard’s playing status was a game time decision. He missed the team’s afternoon shoot-around and battled flu-like symptom throughout the day.
“I wanted to play,” said Howard. “There wasn’t anyway I could play the way I felt at shoot-around, but I felt a little better when we got here tonight.”
The Bulldogs became just the fourth team in Horizon League history to finish with an unbeaten league record and the first to record 18 wins.
“It’s pretty neat,” Howard said of the unbeaten mark. “You don’t see a whole lot of teams that can do that. It’s hard to beat everyone twice in a season, and it’s tough to win on the road. But we found a way to win.”
The Bulldogs will be off until Saturday, March 6, when they begin play in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Their first tournament game will be at 8 p.m. (ET).
(Photos by John Fetcho)