Butler Advances To Horizon League Championship Game

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. -- Junior Matt Howard scored a game-high 18 points and top-seeded Butler overcame a slow start to polish off #4 Milwaukee, 68-59, in the semifinals of the 2010 Speedway Horizon League Championship at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, March 6.  The Bulldogs, who improved to 27-4 on the season, will face #2 Wright State in the tournament championship game on Tuesday, March 9.

Howard scored 13 of his points in the second half to help the Bulldogs take control of the game.  He wound up hitting five of seven shots from the floor and eight of 10 from three free throw line to lead all scorers.

“(My teammates) were giving me the ball in good spots,” said the first team All-League forward.  “I was just trying to attack and get the ball up on the rim.  It was working today.”

Butler, which extended its nation-leading win streak to 19 consecutive games, needed everything to be working in the final 20 minutes.  Milwaukee (20-14) grabbed a lead midway through the first half and stretched the margin to as many as 10 points, 25-15, with under eight minutes remaining.  The Bulldogs closed the half with a 13-4 run to cut the lead to one at halftime, 29-28.

“The first 15 minutes, (Milwaukee) looked like they had been playing, and we did not,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens, referring to his squad’s first game in a week.

The closing momentum of the first half carried into the second half with the Bulldogs opening the final stanza with a 10-2 run to take a seven-point lead.  Howard scored five of the 10 points, senior Willie Veasley had a three-point field goal and sophomore Shelvin Mack added a lay-up.

The Panthers, who were led by Anthony Hill’s 15 points, did cut Butler’s lead to one, 48-47, with 7:10 left, but a 7-2 Butler run gave the Bulldogs some breathing room, and they went on to stretch the margin to as many as 12 points in the closing seconds.

“It was a tough game,” noted Stevens. “They are a very physical team.  I give a lot of credit to those guys, third game in five days.  I thought they played with outstanding effort and didn’t get tired.  I hope they get to keep playing because they deserve it.”

Howard was one of five Butler player to finish in double-figures.  Sophomore Ronald Nored added 13 points and a career-high eight rebounds, Mack had 12 points, Veasley finished with 11 and sophomore Gordon Hayward recorded his fifth consecutive double-double with 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

After shooting just 40% (9-22) in the first half, Butler bounced back to his 12 of 22 (.545) shots in the final period.

The Bulldogs have advanced to the Horizon League championship game for the fifth straight year.  The title game will tip-off at Hinkle Fieldhouse at 9 p.m. (ET) and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

(Photos by John Fetcho)