Coming off yet another stunning upset victory, the now 19th-ranked Butler Bulldogs put a five-game win streak on the line as they welcome the Evansville Purple Aces to Indianapolis for a non- conference showdown at the Hinkle Fieldhouse.
It should no longer come as a surprise when Brad Stevens' Bulldogs go toe-to- toe with a national powerhouse, but still, Butler's 88-86 overtime victory over previously unbeaten and number one ranked Indiana last weekend was still a little shocking. With the victory, Butler joined the top-25, moving to 8-2 on the season. The team hasn't lost since falling to Illinois in the Maui Invitational championship game on Nov. 21.
The Purple Aces have won two straight and three of their last four games to improve to 7-4 on the year. The team was last in action on Tuesday, posting a season-high 103 points in a lopsided win over Oakland.
These two teams are familiar with one another, as this marks the 118th all- time meeting. Evansville leads the series, 62-55. Butler has won 11 of the last 14 meetings, but the Purple Aces have won two straight, both overtime affairs.
The Purple Aces were clicking on all cylinders this week against the Grizzlies, shooting .536 from the floor, owning a 47-25 rebounding edge and forcing Oakland into 21 turnovers. DJ Balentine led the way offensively, coming off the bench with 17 points in 24 minutes of action. Ned Cox and Ryan Sawvell poured in 16 points each, while Lewis Jones chimed in with 11.
The offensive outburst against Oakland was certainly not the norm for Evansville this season, as the team enters this contest averaging a much more modest 69.7 ppg. The defensive play however, has been more consistent and as a result, the team is enjoying a +8.4 scoring margin, limiting foes to just 61.4 ppg. Ryan leads three Purple Aces with double-digit scoring averages at 12.4 ppg. Balentine is a strong presence off the bench, with 11.7 ppg. Cox isn't far behind, with 11.5 ppg. Unfortunately, the scoring pool dries up quickly after that, with no other player netting over 5.7 ppg.
Sophomore Alex Barlow was the hero in the win over the Hoosiers, as his running floater with two seconds left in the extra session proved to be the difference in the game. Fellow sophomore Roosevelt Jones came up huge in the win as well, posting his fifth career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Rotnei Clarke was once again Butler's scoring leader in the win with 19 points, while other contributors of note included Andrew Smith (12 pts, 9 rebs), Khyle Marshall (11 pts) and Erik Fromm (10 pts).
The Bulldogs aren't an offensive juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination, but Stevens once again has his team believing it can play with anyone. Butler is netting a decent 74.9 ppg, doing so on a healthy .464 shooting. Clarke has made a huge impact, playing in his first season with Butler after transferring from Arkansas. The senior guard leads the team in scoring with 17.5 ppg. Three other Bulldogs are in double digits as well, giving the team a balanced attack. Marshall is next in line at 12.0 ppg, followed by Kellen Dunham and Smith, who chip in with 10.7 and 10.6 ppg, respectively.