Home Men's Basketball The Game that Defined the Bulldogs’ Season

The Game that Defined the Bulldogs’ Season

Jimmy Lafakis | Butler Collegian

LaVall Jordan is searching for answers. There is no reason this should happen. This is Butler Basketball. This is grit and grind. This is character and effort. Coach Jordan may very well know that more than anyone, playing for the Bulldogs during his college years. But it just hasn’t clicked yet for the second-year coach, who finds his team barely over .500. To put that in perspective, the last time Butler finished with that bad of a record? 2013. The year that featured fellow-alumnus Brandon Miller running the team into the ground and saw his office emptied with no warning and no explanation.

LaVall Jordan is no Brandon Miller. He is a dedicated Bulldog with some serious coaching chops and enough charisma and confidence to fill Hinkle Fieldhouse all by himself. However, this team is reeling. Following three straight losses, fans are probably sitting at home wondering where it all went wrong. It happened a lot earlier in the year than you may think. It all started with a big game and a follow up contest that could set the tone for the rest of the season. After that game, the tone was absolutely set.

The Florida Gators were a sizeable non-conference opponent for Butler when the schedule was announced. When the Battle for Atlantis enabled the teams to get an early look at their opponent, it opened up a unique opportunity for the Bulldogs: get two huge wins against an SEC opponent away from home. The first contest played well into Butler’s playing style. It was low scoring, slow-paced, and featured lots of three point attempts (47 between the two teams). It was a game that saw the Bulldogs limit the already depleted Florida roster to just 54 points with no player scoring more than 11. Coming off a disappointing loss to Dayton and an underwhelming win against Middle Tennessee, this was exactly what Coach Jordan needed to springboard the rest of non-conference play. See you in Gainesville, Gators.

Before the Bulldogs made the trip to the swamplands, they first had to lose on the road to St. Louis – a team squarely out of the tournament picture – and be the victim of a heartbreaking buzzer-beater to Indiana. Their rematch with the Gators was their last tune-up before Big East play started. This was the chance to regain composure. To remind everyone that Butler basketball could still be a contender on the national level.

0-21. That was the score of the game before Jordan Tucker hit a three pointer with 11:04 to go in the first half. Nearly nine minutes of scoreless basketball doomed the Bulldogs before the game ever got going. As the minutes went by, players lost confidence and ESPN certainly lost viewers – especially in the Midwest region. It was the type of ugly that makes you wonder if the team believed they had any chance to win at all. The minute the game started, the win against the Gators earlier in the year meant absolutely nothing. Head coach Mike White made adjustments. He watched the Bulldogs, scouted the Bulldogs, and destroyed the Bulldogs. Florida shot 20% better from the field in the rematch, while Butler shot 14% less. The 33-point loss was a warning of what was to come.

Sitting at 6-10 in Big East play, Butler has continually replayed the theme from the Florida series in multiple games. In the first half, the Bulldogs seem competent and appear to have a chance to win the game. Then the second half arrives and the flip scripts to hopelessness and tons of missed shots. Take a look at the matchup with Marquette just a few weeks ago. Butler had multiple eight point leads, only to lose by double-figures. Just a few days ago, they had a lead against Villanova in Philadelphia. The game ended 75-54 with the Wildcats winning the second half by 18 points. It is this common motif that has plagued the Bulldogs from early on in the year. It doesn’t matter how many shots they make or how much toughness they show – the opponent will figure them out and show no mercy until the end. The Gator Chomp swallowed up the Bulldogs’ entire season.