February 27, 2009

Bulldogs Close Regular Season Against Cleveland State

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TOP SHOT: Butler, having clinched a share of the Horizon League regular season championship, can claim the league title outright when it hosts Cleveland State in the regular season finale for both teams on Saturday, Feb. 28. The league showdown is set for 12 noon at Hinkle Fieldhouse and will be broadcast to a national-television audience on ESPN2. The Bulldogs (24-4, 14-3 HL) secured a tie for first place in the final league standings with a 78-57 victory over Youngstown State on Thursday (Feb. 28). That win left Butler with a one-game lead over Green Bay (22-8, 13-4 HL) with one game remaining. Cleveland State (21-9, 12-5 HL) maintained its hold on third place in the league standings with a 71-64 victory at Valparaiso on Thursday. The Vikings have won eight consecutive Horizon League games and eight out of their last nine games overall. Butler defeated Cleveland State, 50-48 on a shot at the buzzer, in the Horizon League opener in December.

Butler has tied the fifth-highest single season win total in school history.

IN THE HOUSE: Butler is 13-1 in Hinkle Fieldhouse this season, and the Bulldogs have won 17 of their last 18 home games. The Bulldogs boast wins in 55 of their last 60 contests in the Fieldhouse, including 33 of their last 35 Horizon League games. Butler is 123-16 (.885) at home since 1999-00.

POLL WATCH: Butler is ranked in the "Top 25" in both the Associated Press (A.P.) and ESPN/USA Today national polls for the eighth consecutive week. The Bulldogs, ranked as high as No. 11 this season, dropped to No. 24 in the A.P. poll and No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, following a split in last week's games. Butler was ranked in both national polls for a school- and Horizon League-record 19 consecutive weeks last year, and the Bulldogs have been ranked for 28 weeks under second-year head coach Brad Stevens.

20-PLUS: Butler has posted its 11th 20-win season in the past 13 years and its fourth consecutive. The Bulldogs have won at least 24 games in three straight seasons.

LAST TIME OUT: The Bulldogs scored the first four points of the game, stretched the lead to 10 points at halftime and then pulled away in the final 20 minutes to post a 21-point victory over Youngstown State on Thursday (Feb. 26). Freshman Ronald Nored and sophomore Matt Howard opened the game with back-to-back baskets for the Bulldogs, before Jack Liles scored three straight points for Youngstown State. That was as close as the Penguins would come. Butler stretched the lead to 38-28 at halftime, behind a crisp 61% (14-23) shooting performance from the field, and then put things away behind a 40-point outburst in the final 20 minutes. The win cinched a bye for the Bulldogs in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament.

Butler has won three consecutive Horizon League regular season titles.

DOUBLE TIME: Sophomore Matt Howard scored eight of Butler's first 15 points against Youngstown State, and by halftime he had 14 points and six rebounds, nearly matching his season averages. The 6-8 forward continued to dominate in the second half, finishing with game-high totals of 25 points and 10 rebounds. It was his seventh career double-double, and his fifth this season. He hit 10 of a career-high 16 field goal attempts and five of seven shots from the free throw line in the game. The 25 points were the second-highest total of his young career, trailing only the 30 points he had in his previous home game against Loyola.

Matt Howard has averaged 24.7 points in Butler's last three home games.

SMART PICK: Matt Howard was one of 15 NCAA Division I basketball players named to the 2008-09 ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-America Team this week. Howard, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring, rebounding, field goal shooting and blocked shots, is a finance major with a 3.727 grade point average. He was picked second team on the honor squad and was the lone sophomore among the 15 players chosen. Howard is Butler's third Academic All-American in the past two seasons, joining former teammates A. J. Graves (second team) and Drew Streicher (third team) who were honored last year.

HELPING HAND: Freshman Shelvin Mack scored just six points against Youngstown State, but he contributed to 12 additional points with a game-high six assists. It was the eighth time this season that he's had at least five assists in a game and gave him a team-high 100 assists on the season. Mack, who also ranks among the "Top 15" players in the league in scoring, stands fifth in the Horizon League in assists (3.6).

Shelvin Mack leads the Horizon League in assist/turnover ratio (1.7).

QUICK STUDY: Butler head coach Brad Stevens has moved into the No. 3 spot on the NCAA Division I list for Best Career Coaching Starts-Two Seasons with his 54-8 career record. Bill Guthridge of North Carolina holds the top spot with a 58-14 record from 1998 to 1999, while Everett Case was 55-8 in his first two seasons (1947-48) at North Carolina State. The coach that Stevens passed on the list was his former boss, Todd Lickliter, who was 53-12 in his first two seasons at Butler, 2002-03! Stevens currently ranks fifth in winning pct. (.871) after two seasons.

Brad Stevens owns two of Butler's top five single season win totals.

CLASS OF ONE: Butler's Gordon Hayward is the only player in the Horizon League who ranks in the "Top 10" in the ten different statistical categories! He's fifth in scoring (13.9), fifth in rebounding (6.4), fifth in field goal shooting (.485), first in 3-point field goal shooting (.460), fourth in free throw shooting (.828), fourth in 3-point field goals (2.3), sixth in steals (1.6), seventh in blocked shots (1.0), fourth in defensive rebounds (5.0) and eighth in minutes played (32.1).

BULLDOG BITS:

•Butler is ranked second behind Gonzaga in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. The Bulldogs had held the top spot for five consecutive weeks, prior to last week.

•The Bulldogs have tied their second-highest total for Horizon League wins with 14. Last year's Butler team won a league-record 16 contests, while the 2002-03 Bulldogs won 14 Horizon League games. Only six teams in Horizon League history have won more than 13 league games.

•Butler sophomore Matt Howard was named to the Midseason Top 30 candidates list for the John R. Wooden Award, presented to the nation's best player by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

•Matt Howard, who's shooting .661 (39-59) over Butler's last five games, leads the Horizon League in field goal shooting (.547). Howard finished third in the league in FG% (.583) last year.

•Matt Howard leads the Bulldogs in scoring at home this season with a 15.6 average. He's shooting .631 in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Howard has shot at a .771 (27-35) clip in Butler's last three home games.

•Matt Howard has moved into fifth place on Butler's list for career field goal shooting. The 6-8 sophomore is shooting .565 (268-474) over his first two seasons.

•Matt Howard ranks second in the Horizon League in both blocked shots (1.6) and offensive rebounds (2.7).

•Freshman Gordon Hayward matched his career-high with four assists against Youngstown State. He also had 14 points, five rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal in the Bulldogs' victory.

•Junior Willie Veasley scored 12 points and had a season-high eight rebounds in 19 minutes of action against Youngstown State. Veasley made four of five shots in the win.

•Freshman Ronald Nored has averaged 5.8 points, 4.4 assists and is shooting .524 from the field over Butler's last five games.

•Freshman Garrett Butcher posted his second-highest scoring total of the season with eight points in 18 minutes against Youngstown State.

•Junior Avery Jukes returned to action against Youngstown State, after missing four games with a sprained knee, suffered in practice prior to the UIC game.

•Butler continues to lead the Horizon League in scoring margin (+11.2). The Bulldogs are second in the league in scoring defense (57.5) and in scoring offense (68.7). The Bulldogs also are leading the league in rebounding margin (+3.2), three-point field goals (8.5), field goal percentage defense (.378) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.305).

•Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack continue to climb Butler's all-time freshman scoring list. Hayward stands in third place with 390 points, while Mack is seventh with 331. Butler's freshman scoring record is 476 points by Tony Warren in 1979-80. Hayward and Mack are the top-scoring freshmen in the Horizon League. Hayward ranks fifth in scoring (13.9), while Mack is 12th (11.8). The two are the only freshmen among the league's "Top 20" scorers.