Bulldogs Hold On Against Utah, 74-62

Bulldogs Hold On Against Utah, 74-62

HONOLULU, HAWAII -- Senior Matt Howard scored a game-high 23 points and junior Ronald Nored added a career-high 16 points, all in the second half, to lead Butler to a 74-62 victory over Utah in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center on Wednesday, Dec. 22.   It was the third straight win for the 7-4 Bulldogs.

Howard, who’s had more than 20 points in each of Butler’s last three games, helped the Bulldogs take control with 15 points in the first half.  He hit six of 10 shots from the field and three of four from the free throw line.  The 6-8 forward tallied eight of Butler’s first 14 points in the game, and he scored four points in a 13-1 Butler run that gave the Bulldogs a 33-18 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the initial period.

“Matt’s been playing at an unbelievable level for a really long time, and this year he’s risen it,” said Butler head coach Brad Stevens.  “With what he’s doing right now, he’s playing at as high a level as anybody around.”

The first half scoring run proved to be decisive.  Butler led by 13 at halftime, 40-27, and then the Bulldogs held off several comeback attempts by the Utes (7-4) in the second half.

With Butler holding a slim 20-17 advantage midway through the first half, freshman Khyle Marshall started the key stretch for the Bulldogs with a short jumper.  Senior Shawn Vanzant followed with a lay-up, before Josh Watkins hit one of two free throw attempts for the Utes.

The Bulldogs answered that charity toss with nine straight points - five by junior Shelvin Mack and four by Howard.

“I thought we were locked in tonight and we went on one run, and then we played even the rest of the game,” added Stevens.

Utah made a couple of runs at the Bulldogs in the second half, cutting the margin to six at 44-38, seven at 54-47 and later to eight at 64-56.  Each time, Nored helped Butler regain control.  He hit a lay-up that gave the Bulldogs a 46-38 lead, a three-point field goal to make it 57-47, and a couple of free throws in a 5-0 run that gave Butler a 69-56 advantage.

The 6-0 Butler guard hit all three shots he attempted in the final period and his final nine free throw attempts, after missing his first.  His 16 points matched his career-high, set against UIC last February.

Marshall also came up with a career-high with 11 points in the game, and he matched his career-high with six rebounds.  Mack finished with 13 points, despite a five of 20 shooting night, and six rebounds.  Sophomore Chase Stigall, who hit a pair of three-point field goals in the first half, finished with six points and a career-high six rebounds.

Watkins led four Utah players in double figures with 17 points, while Will Clyburn added 16.  Utah’s 7-3 center David Foster set a tournament record with seven blocked shots in the game.

Butler will face Florida State, a winner over host Hawaii, in the second round of the tournament at 10 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, Dec. 23.  Baylor and Washington State will play in the other “winners” bracket game on Thursday.