No. 16 Butler Wins Sixth Straight Against Loyola
CHICAGO (AP) - Matt Howard showed Butler can win even when its talented backcourt does not dominate.
Howard scored 19 points, and the 16th-ranked Bulldogs won their sixth straight game, pulling away for a 66-55 victory over Loyola of Chicago on Monday night.
The Bulldogs (14-1, 3-1 Horizon League) improved to 14-1 for the second straight season and the fifth time in the program's history, but it wasn't easy. They went on a 14-3 run midway through the second half to take a 54-40 lead.
Butler was 9-for-20 from 3-point range, but Howard's work inside was the difference. He scored seven points during the deciding run and was 6-of-10 from the field for the game.
Mike Green added 15 points for the Bulldogs, but backcourtmate A.J. Graves scored just seven - less than half his average.
"It's a compliment to Mike and A.J.," Howard said. "They consistently found me. A lot of my shots were real easy."
Green countered: "He's modest. He made some good plays."
J.R. Blount scored 16 points for Loyola (5-10, 1-4), while Andy Polka had 14 points and eight rebounds. The Ramblers fell five games under .500 for the first time since 2004-05, when they lost 16 of their first 23 and finished 13-17 in coach Jim Whitesell's first season.
"This is not an easy team to guard," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "They don't shoot a lot of 3s, but they're 6-5, 6-7, and they shoot those floaters. So guarding them can be tough and we did a good job of that tonight."
Loyola pulled within 40-37 after Tracy Robinson stole an inbounds pass and broke the other way for a layup with 10:22 left. But Howard tipped in Graves' missed layup, got fouled and completed the three-point play to ignite the deciding run. He added a layup and two more free throws, and Zach Hahn's 3-pointer made it 54-40 with 6:24 left.
That drew a roar from the crowd of 2,100, most of which seemed to be rooting for Butler, but Howard's play drew praise from Loyola.
"He's a big body and a good finisher," Polka said. "That makes a good big man."
The Bulldogs hit 12 of 25 shots in the second half and were 22-of-48 overall. They made 13 of 17 free throws.
It was just what Butler needed after a rather sluggish 73-65 win over Valparaiso on Saturday, even if Loyola put up a fight. Butler started the game on a 14-2 run, and although the blowout never developed, the Bulldogs showed enough poise in the latter stages to pull away.
Then again, these teams have a history of close games.
The Ramblers, who won 21 games last season, gave Butler all it could handle in their three meetings. Loyola won one game by four points and lost twice in overtime, including the Horizon League tournament semifinals. Blake Schilb averaged 28 points in those games but he's gone and Loyola has struggled.
"We just couldn't match them with baskets or get the big stops," Whitesell said. "They are a team there that really runs quality offense. One thing you always say about Butler is they never beat themselves. They always take care of the ball, they get a good shot down on the floor. So give credit where credit's due, they're awfully good."
Early on, it looked like Graves would be the star for Butler.
He hit started the game with a 3-pointer, added another during that opening run and had seven points at halftime. But he missed all three shots he took in the second half.
"Loyola did a good job of guarding him, and he had to spread the ball around to other guys instead," Stevens said. "There are nights where A.J. doesn't score, but he doesn't care as long as we win."