INDIANAPOLIS, IND. -- For more than 20 minutes the Bulldogs looked unbeatable. The visiting Bulldogs! Butler, behind a solid second half defensive effort, rallied from a 17-point deficit in the final 19 minutes to defeat Gardner-Webb, 68-66, in a Hoosier Invitational game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Gardner-Webb (2-4) put on a remarkable shooting performance in the first half against Butler and raced to a 50-35 halftime lead. The visiting Runnin' Bulldogs shot 77% (20-26) in the first 20 minutes, including 80% (8-10) from beyond the three-point arc! The 50 points were the most allowed by Butler in a half since Nov. 26, 2009, when Minnesota scored 50 in the second half of a victory over the Bulldogs at the 76 Classic in California.
"We came out with what we thought was an aggressive approach, and (Gardner-Webb) took advantage of it," said Butler head coach Brad Stevens after the game. "Their ball-handlers did a great job handling the initial pressure, and then we didn't rotate as well as we would have liked and they made shots and took advantage of every which one."
"To hold them to 16 in the second half was a good feeling," added Butler's coach.
After Mike Byron scored on a lay-up with 19:24 left in the game to give Gardner-Webb a 52-35 lead, Butler held the visitors without a point for the next eight minutes. That defensive stretch allowed the home squad to cut the margin to a single point, 52-51.
Butler (3-2) eventually tied the game at 58-58 on a free throw by Andrew Smith with 6:42 remaining. Sophomore Chrishawn Hopkins (left) then gave Butler its first lead in the contest at 60-58 with a jumper at 5:51.
Gardner-Webb tied the game for a final time at 60-60 on a basket by Tashan Newsome, before Hopkins came off a screen and found junior Chase Stigall open in the corner. Stigall knocked down the three-point field goal to put Butler on top for good, 63-60.
The visitors stayed within striking distance and trailed by just two points, 67-65, with 0:14 left, when freshman Jackson Aldridge connected on one of two free throws to give Butler a three-point advantage. Newsome was fouled with 0:01.3 left, and he made one of two free throws for the final margin.
Butler limited the hot-shooting visitors to just six field goals and 27% shooting in the final period. Gardner-Webb managed just eight points in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
"We mixed it up (defensively) in the first half, and we just went to our system in the second half," explained Stevens. "We went with very much what we start with when we start working as a team on Oct. 14. A lot of times, the aggressive approach is a good thing to start a game with, but we were down so fast it didn't help a whole lot."
"We don't win the game without (Garrett) Butcher," Stevens said of his senior forward. "I should have played Butch a lot more in the first half. I know when he goes in, he's going to fight, scratch and claw to be the best that he can be."
Butcher, a 6-6 co-captain, helped fuel Butler's defensive effort in the second half. He played 12 minutes in the final period and contributed three points, two rebounds and a steal, while anchoring Butler's interior defense.
Hopkins matched his career-high and led all scorers in the game with 22 points, while Stigall chipped in with a career-high 14 points. Smith finished with 11 points and a team-high five rebounds.
Byron led Gardner-Webb with 16 points, while Max Landis, a freshman from Perry Meridian High School added 14, all in the first half.
Butler will conclude play in the five-team Hoosier Invitational with a game at Indiana on Sunday, Nov. 27. That contest at Assembly Hall will start at 7 p.m. (ET) and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
(Photos by Zach Bollinger)