Lester's Career Night Powers Bulldogs Past Valpo, 77-44
Indianapolis, Ind. - As the final horn of the first half sounded at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday (Jan. 23) night, nine Butler players had combined for a respectable 21-19 edge over a tough Valparaiso team.
The 10th player, however, had single-handedly turned what would have otherwise been a closely contested game into one that was almost never in doubt, as junior forward Susan Lester erupted for 27 first-half points en route to a career-best 31 in leading the host Bulldogs to a 77-44 thumping of the Crusaders.
In what was undoubtably one of the most impressive single-half offensive displays in school history, Lester dismantled the Valparaiso defense, finding open look after open look to finish with a gaudy 10-for-14 performance from the field, 4-for-6 effort from beyond the arc and an opening-period scoring total that dwarfed the entire Crusader's sum by eight points (27 to 19).
With the win, the Bulldogs continued their perfect start to the league campaign, moving to 7-0 in the conference season while boosting their overall mark to 12-6. Butler also extends its season-long winning streak to eight games.
The stifling defense that has carried the Bulldogs all year long was as impressive as ever against a hot-shooting Valparaiso team that entered the contest averaging a league-best 65.9 points per game. Butler held the Crusaders without a single field goal and allowed just seven total points on free throws through the opening 9:30 while working its way out to as much as a 13-point margin.
Lester, meanwhile, was just warming up, as the Anderson, Ind., native boasted just four of the Bulldogs' 18 points through the first 10 minutes of play.
The final 10 would be a much different story, however, as Lester tallied 23 of the Bulldogs final 30 points - including 16 of the last 18 - while helping Butler out to a lopsided 48-19 advantage at the break.
Countering an explosive Valparaiso offense that can get hot at just about any time, Butler made sure that the Crusaders had no thoughts of a dramatic comeback, as the Bulldogs jumped for a 9-0 run out of the locker room - keyed by four points from Melanie Thornton and three from Brittany Bowen - to push ahead to their largest lead of the game at 57-19 with 16:23 to go.
A few sparks of long range offense by the Crusaders cut into the difference, as Valparaiso trimmed its deficit to 28 midway through the period, but the rally would fall well short of a comeback.
Lester's scoring line in the first half (10-14 FG, 4-6 3FG, 27 points) dwarfed the entire Crusader's lineup (5-19 FG, 1-4 3FG, 19 points), as the Bulldogs rode an incredible 70.4 percent effort from the field (19-27) to its fifth 30+ point victory of the season.
The Bulldogs' 44 points allowed marks the eighth-straight game that Butler has yielded an opponent 50 or fewer points - the longest such streak in program history. Valparaiso's scoring total was also nearly 22 points below their season scoring average entering the game (65.9 ppg).
Despite being overshadowed by Lester's incredible performance, Thornton registered another strong performance, finishing just a rebound shy of her seventh career double-double with 10 points and game-high nine boards.
Along with the men's team (8-0), Butler's combined 15-0 record in Horizon League play is the best undefeated mark in all of the NCAA Division I. Louisville (11-0) enters the night in second.
Butler hits the road next week when it takes on reigning Horizon League regular season champion (and currently undefeated) Green Bay on Thursday (Jan. 29) beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET (7:00 p.m. CT).