Published December 08, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS – Butler is a long way from the Final Four.
After losing in the national championship game the past two seasons, the Bulldogs are struggling to shoot, play defense, stay out of foul trouble and even win.
It's not The Butler Way.
Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons each scored 16 points Wednesday night, leading No. 8 Xavier past the Bulldogs 73-61. It's the first time in more than four years that Butler has lost back-to-back home games.
"Obviously, we're upset the way we've been handling things, but we feel like if we just get over that hump, we'll be right there where we want to be, and we'll be the type of team we want to be," guard Chase Stigall said. "Coach always says you can't take a break. You've got to do the little things. We have to do the little things and do the important things more, and we just can't take breaks at all."
The lessons lately have been hard.
After losing six players from last season's team, the inexperienced Bulldogs have been searching for answers.
Against Xavier, they shot 30.6 percent from the field and were 2 of 21 from 3-point range, rekindling images of their dismal showing in last spring's title game against Connecticut. Stigall and freshman Roosevelt Jones were the only players to reach double figures. Each scored 10 points.
Jones, who also had 11 rebounds, provided the biggest scare of the night when he needed help to leave the court in the second half. The initial fear was that it was a left knee injury. But it turned out to be cramps.
It was little consolation for coach Brad Stevens, who drew a rare technical foul late in the first half while trying to figure out something that would work against the Musketeers (7-0).
For the first time since ending the 2004-05 season with a 13-15 record, Butler (4-5) is under .500 this late in the season.
"We've got to get the right guys the right shots at the right times," Stevens said.
Xavier, meanwhile, relied on its dynamic guard tandem.
Holloway managed only one basket, but he drove to the rim, drew fouls and connected on 14 of 16 free throws. He also had seven rebounds.
"We were just ready to play tonight and we were on top of our game," Holloway said. "When we're on top of our game, I feel like we can beat anyone."
In fact, the Musketeers have beaten everyone, which is why they have their highest ranking since December 2007.
They've beaten two of Indiana's biggest names, Purdue and Butler, in consecutive games and are 2-0 on the road after winning earlier this season at Vanderbilt.
Still, the Bulldogs have been a constant thorn in Xavier's side.
Butler had won three of the last four meetings, including the messy ending in Xavier's last visit to Hinkle Fieldhouse. Gordon Hayward scored on a last-second layup and, after the clock was stopped with 1.2 seconds to go, the officials determined there was a clock malfunction and ran off the rest of the time as both teams watched from near their bench.
There was no way the Musketeers were going to let it happen again. Holloway sparked one big run, Lyons ignited another and freshman Dezmine Wells had 13 points. The Musketeers committed only 13 turnovers, too.
The message was simple: Xavier is as good as people think.
"It seems like we're playing statement game after statement game," coach Chris Mack said. "But we embrace that. I know Butler does as well. We don't have any chippies coming up and Butler doesn't either. I think if you want to be the best, you have to play the best and you have to challenge yourself."
The Musketeers left nothing to chance in a gritty, ugly game.
Xavier broke open a 6-4 game with a 17-0 run in the first half. Eventually, the Musketeers extended the lead to 18.
But the Bulldogs charged back from a 39-23 halftime deficit.
Butler knocked down two 3-pointers and four baskets in the first 3:18 of the second half, closing to 43-33. After a Xavier timeout, Jones and Andrew Smith combined for six more points to make it 43-39.
"I thought he (Smith) re-established himself a little bit in the second half with a few aggressive moves that we need. It's really important for us as we move forward," Stevens said.
When the Bulldogs whittled the deficit to 45-41, Holloway finally responded.
He scored six points, including his only basket, and came up with two steals in an 11-2 run that made it 56-43 midway through the second half.
The Bulldogs weren't finished. Eric Fromm scored five points in a 7-2 spurt that got Butler within 58-50.
This time, Lyons bailed out Xavier, scoring six points in a 10-0 run that took away the suspense.
"I just wanted to be aggressive, and be able to get to the line and get to the rim, and I was getting fouled, so that's where I had to score tonight," Holloway said. "We're just sort of a well-rounded group of guys who are ready to play at all times. We're on a mission."