December 26, 2007

Major Challenge Awaits Bulldogs At Southern Illinois

Dec. 26, 2007

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ROAD HAZARD: Butler has already faced some sizeable hurdles this season, but none may be bigger than the challenge that lies ahead this weekend. The Bulldogs will travel to Carbondale, Ill., to take on Southern Illinois on Friday, Dec. 28, in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPNU. The two teams will square off in SIU Arena at 8 p.m. (CT, 9 p.m. ET). Forget that Southern Illinois is 5-5 on the season. The Salukis are 16-1 at home since the start of last season, with the lone setback coming to #15 Indiana. Southern Illinois is 34-3 at home against non-conference foes since Dec. 8, 1999, and the Salukis have beaten nationally-ranked Saint Mary's and Mid-Major power Western Kentucky in their last two home games. Last year, Southern Illinois defeated Butler, 68-64, at Hinkle Fieldhouse, snapping the Bulldogs' 22-game homecourt winning streak. Butler (11-1) is coming off a 78-66 win at Florida Gulf Coast in its last outing right before Christmas.

Butler will be playing at SIU Arena for the first time.

POLLING PLACE: The Bulldogs remained at No. 16 in the Associated Press men's basketball poll and climbed to No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, following last week's wins over Bradley and Florida Gulf Coast. Butler has been ranked in the A.P. poll for seven straight weeks and in both polls for six consecutive weeks. Last year, Butler became the first team in Horizon League history to be ranked in the "Top 25" for more than five weeks.

Butler has been ranked in the Top 20 for 21 weeks since November of 2006.

ADDITIONAL POLLING: The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in The CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 and in the ESPN.com Mid-Major Top 10.

BIG FINISH: The Bulldogs turned a strong second-half performance into a 12-point victory at Florida Gulf Coast in their final pre-Christmas contest. The host Eagles jumped out to an early nine-point lead, and the game was tied, 33-33, at halftime. But the Bulldogs rolled up 45 points in the second half, thanks in large part to a near-perfect effort at the free throw line. Butler hit 18 of 19 attempts from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes, including 13 of 13 in the final 5:06. The Bulldogs never trailed after taking a 39-37 lead on a three-point field goal by Julian Betko with 18:51 left. It was the third straight game that Butler scored 78 or more points and the third consecutive game that the Bulldogs tallied more than 40 points in the second half.

Butler has won its last 14 games when scoring 75 points or more.

SEASON OF CHARITY: The Bulldogs nailed a season-best 26 of 28 (.929) free throws against Florida Gulf Coast. Mike Green missed Butler first free throw attempt seven minutes into the contest, and the Bulldogs then made 13 straight charity tosses until their second and final miss with just over five minutes remaining. Guard A. J. Graves hit all nine shots he attempted from the charity stripe, while Green hit eight of nine. It was the third straight game that Butler established a season-high for free throws made.

Butler has made 69 of 82 (.841) free throws over the past three games.

BALANCING ACT: Four of Butler's five starters scored in double-figures against Florida Gulf Coast, led by A. J. Graves with 17 points. It was the third straight game that the 6-1 guard has topped the Bulldogs in scoring. Mike Green chipped in with 16 points, while Julian Betko and Matt Howard each added 12. Butler's fifth starter, Drew Streicher, tallied eight points. It was the second consecutive game that the Bulldogs had four players score in double-figures.

RECHARGED: On Dec. 8, Butler's backcourt duo of seniors A. J. Graves and Mike Green was held to a season-low 12 points in a loss at Wright State. Each player scored just six points, and the two combined to make just four of 23 shots from the field. In the three games since, Graves has averaged 21.0 points, including a 25-point performance in Butler's Wooden Tradition win over Florida State. Green has averaged 17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists over the same three-game stretch. The two have combined to make 42 of 46 (.913) free throws in the three Butler victories.

FRONTCOURT ADDITIONS: The Bulldogs added a new face and an old face to the roster for last week's games against Bradley and Florida Gulf Coast. Sophomore transfer Avery Jukes, a 6-8 forward, became eligible at the end of Butler's first semester, and he tallied six points and three rebounds in brief appearances against both Bradley and Florida Gulf Coast. And 6-7 forward Pete Campbell returned from a sprained knee suffered in Butler's win over Ohio State to play 24 minutes in the two games. Campbell was Butler's second-leading scorer at the time of his injury.

NATIONAL SCENE: The Bulldogs entered the Christmas break ranked second in the NCAA Division I in fewest turnovers per game (10.6). Butler also was ranked fourth in Division I in three-point field goals per game (10.7), 11th in scoring defense, 16th in free throw percentage and 18th in won-loss percentage. A year ago, Butler was the Division I national leader in fewest turnovers per game (9.5).

The Bulldogs have hit at least 10 three-point field goals in six different games this season.

BULLDOG BITS:

•Butler is leading the Horizon League in scoring defense (57.2), scoring margin (+12.8), three-point field goal percentage defense (.309), turnover margin (+3.92), fewest turnovers (10.8), assist/turnover ratio (1.22) and three-point field goals made (10.25).

•Senior guard A. J. Graves is ranked 11th in the NCAA Division I in three-point field goals per game (3.83). He ranks first in the Horizon League in three-pointers.

•A. J. Graves is second on Butler's all-time list for three-point field goals with 254, 60 behind all-time leader and former teammate Bruce Horan (2002-06).

•A. J. Graves has moved into seventh place on Butler's all-time scoring list with 1,546 career points. He's the 39th player in Horizon League history to reach the 1,500-point plateau.

•A. J. Graves has taken over the Horizon League lead in free throw shooting (938). He led the league and finished second in the NCAA Division I in free throw shooting last year with a .948 mark.

•A. J. Graves has scored in double-figures in 85 of 108 career games. He's scored 20 or more points in 23 games, including four this year.

•A. J. Graves leads the Horizon League in minutes played (36.50), while Mike Green stands third (34.75).

•Mike Green has scored 1,316 points during his collegiate career (641 at Towson and 675 at Butler).

•Mike Green stands second in the Horizon League in assists (5.00). He's fifth in the league in assist/turnover ratio (1.94), 11th in free throw percentage (.782) and tied for 13th in rebounding (5.6).

•Pete Campbell, who missed three games with a sprained knee suffered in Butler's victory over Ohio State, is tied for second in the Horizon League in three-point field goals (3.3), and he ranks eighth in the league in three-point FG% (.462).

•Matt Howard is the top-scoring freshman in the Horizon League (11.5). He also tops all freshmen in rebounding (5.3).

•Matt Howard ranks second in the Horizon League in field goal percentage (.590). He's connected on 35 of his last 57 (.614) field goal attempts. Howard also ranks 10th in the league in free throw shooting (.784), and he's fifth in the league in offensive rebounds (2.33).

•Matt Howard has scored in double-figures in six of his last seven outings, including a career-high 23 points against Ohio State. He's posted twin-digits in Butler's last three games.

•Julian Betko hit a career-best four of five three-point field goals at Florida Gulf Coast. He's made 14 of 23 (.609) three-point field goals over Butler's last five games, and he's averaged 10.0 points over that stretch.

•Julian Betko and Mike Green were in Butler's starting lineup for the 48th consecutive game against Bradley.

•Despite playing just three games in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs are 11-1 for the second consecutive season.