Second Half Sinks Butler
INDIANAPOLIS, IND. -- Visiting Saint Louis shot 52% in the final 20 minutes and overcame a five-point halftime deficit to defeat Butler, 65-61, in a first place showdown in front of a sellout crowd of 10,000 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday (Feb. 22). The win gave the Billikens a full-game lead in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings.
Guards Mike McCall, Jr., and Kwamain Mitchell combined for 23 points after intermission to fuel the Billikens' comeback effort. McCall, who led all scorers in the game with 18 points, scored 13 after halftime, while Mitchell posted 10 of his 12 points in the final 20 minutes.
The Billikens (21-5, 10-2 A-10) opened the second half with a 19-7 run that turned a 34-29 halftime deficit into a 48-41 advantage. Butler (22-6, 9-4 A-10) was left scrambling to catch up the rest of the game.
"The start of the second half was the difference in the game," said head coach Brad Stevens.
Mitchell scored eight points and McCall added five in the in the first seven minutes of the final period. Mitchell scored on back-to-back lay-ups to turn a 36-35 deficit to a 39-36 lead and Saint Louis never trailed again. The Billikens stretched the advantage to as many as nine points, 53-44, midway through the final 20 minutes, before holding off a late Butler comeback attempt.
The Bulldogs did cut the lead to one, 57-56, on a lay-up by Roosevelt Jones and again at 59-58, on a pair of free throws by Jones, but Saint Louis didn't surrender the lead. A final free throw by Jones with 0:27 left drew the Bulldogs within two, 63-61, but McCall hit a pair of free throws with 0:19 remaining to seal the outcome.
"That was a really hard played game by those two teams," noted Stevens. "Both teams fought. Both teams played well. I thought we played exceptionally well in the first 20 minutes. You look at the box score and it's 34-29, and I thought we gave them as good a shot as we could give them."
"I've said it all week. Some people choose to listen and some people don't. That's a heck-of-a basketball team. They could go as far as they want to go," added Butler's coach.
The Bulldogs, who led by as many as nine points in the opening half, were out-scored, 20-8, in the paint in the final period. Saint Louis finished with a 38-18 advantage on points-in-the-paint and a 19-6 edge in points off turnovers
Freshman Kellen Dunham came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs with 14 points, all in the first half. The 6-6 guard hit four of his first six shots in the game, including two of three from beyond the three-point arc.
Senior Rotnei Clarke and Jones each finished with 13 points. Senior Andrew Smith added nine points and a game-high nine rebounds. The Bulldogs out-rebounded Saint Louis, 39-29.
Forward Dwayne Evans added 17 points for the visitors, who hit 13 of their final 25 shots.
The Bulldogs, who slipped to third place in the A-10 standings, will have a full week off for the first time since the last week of December. Butler will visit second place VCU on Saturday, March 2, for another key conference showdown.