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Three best and worst games of the Butler men’s basketball season

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Photo by Brent Smith for Butler Athletics

By Chris Brown

The 2019-20 Butler men’s basketball season was certainly not a completely smooth ride. The Bulldogs started the season 15-1, dropped eight of their next 12 contests, then went on a three-game winning streak to end the regular season before the coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended the college basketball season.

Amongst the Bulldogs’ 22-9 record were a wide variety of games, from 33-point victories to 22-point defeats, from games knocking down nearly 60% of attempted 3-pointers to games with just a 7% rate.

With the season in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look back at the best and worst games of the season. A quick explanation: Yes, typically the best games are Butler wins and the worst games are Butler losses, but we’re looking at the games more holistically than just one play or one injury or absense. One way of thinking about it: These are the best and worst games for sitting down and rewatching the entire 40 minutes of basketball.

Best three games:

Feb. 5, 2020: 79-76 win vs. No. 10 Villanova

While we said we wouldn’t be choosing these games based on solely a great finish, this game certainly had just that. But this game between two top-25 teams at Hinkle Fieldhouse was truly something to behold from start to finish. 

Butler got Aaron Thompson back after a three-game injury absence, and its offense was firing on all cylinders. Sean McDermott scored 13 first-half points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field, and six Bulldogs scored in the opening 20 minutes. After shooting 57% in the first half, Butler bested that in the second frame, shooting 58%. Bryce Golden scored a career-high 18 points, McDermott tallied 21. Thompson scored nine and every other Bulldogs’ starter scored at least 12.

Despite this great offensive output, the Wildcats put up quite a fight, particularly in the second half. Villanova’s top two scorers, Collin Gillepsie and Saddiq Bey, combined to score 57 points in the game, and made some big shots down the stretch, including Bey’s 3-pointer to tie the game at 76 with just 25 seconds remaining.

Then, of course, you should remember how this one ended:

Dec. 10, 2019: 53-52 loss at No. 11 Baylor

A loss amongst the best games of the season? That’s right. The Bulldogs went on the road to take on a team considered a consensus 1-seed for the NCAA Tournament and were one shot away from a victory. 

Despite only getting strong offensive outputs from McDermott and Kamar Baldwin, the Bulldogs climbed back in this game thanks to tremendous defense, particularly in the second half, when the Bears scored just 19 points on 24% shooting from the field. Butler held Baylor’s elite backcourt trio to just 24 points for the game.

While the Bulldogs couldn’t pull off the upset, dropping their first game of the season, they hung around with one of the top teams in the nation on the road, which was certainly encouraging. The highlights of this one are below:

Dec. 31, 2019: 60-58 win at St. John’s

The last college basketball game of the decade was quite the roller coaster of emotion. Let’s break this down a bit. The Bulldogs and Red Storm played to a tie midway through the first half. Then Butler went on a 23-2 run to head into halftime up by 21 with all the momentum. 

What happened in the second half was even more stunning. After growing their lead to as much as 23 points, the Bulldogs collapsed in spectacular fashion. They blew that entire lead in a matter of minutes, trailing by as many as five points. Butler then went on a 7-0 capped off by a Christian David 3-pointer to somehow escape with a New Year’s Eve victory to kick off Big East play.

The second half was ugly, no doubt, but there’s also no doubting that this game overall was incredibly entertaining. Here’s a look back at the highlights:

Worst three games:

Feb. 23, 2020: 81-59 loss at No. 15 Creighton

This is a game no Butler fan would want to relive. The Bulldogs’ two most important players, Baldwin and Thompson, both exited with injuries. With Baldwin on the bench and Bryce Nze in foul trouble, Butler didn’t knock down a field goal in the final seven minutes of the first half.

Things didn’t get any better in the second half, as Creighton went on a 19-3 run to kick off the final 20 minutes. The Blue Jays knocked down 15 3-pointers, the Bulldogs turned the ball over 16 times. I could go on, but it’s more of the same.

The Bulldogs scored their third-fewest points of the season and lost by 22, their largest margin of defeat all year. Here’s a look at the, um, lowlights, if you will:

Feb. 15, 2020: 73-66 loss vs. Georgetown

Of Butler’s three losses at Hinkle this season, this one was without a doubt the worst, and it wasn’t pretty at all. Butler was playing without Thompson and Derrik Smits due to injury, but the Hoyas were at a bigger disadvantage. Georgetown was without its top two scorers, guard Mac McClung and center Omer Yurtseven, who both averaged over 16 points per game. 

After leading by one point at halftime, the Hoyas shot 58% from the field in the final 20 minutes. The Bulldogs’ three leading scorers, Baldwin, Jordan Tucker and McDermott, combined to shoot an inefficient 39% from the field.

“They were more prepared … they were more focused,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said postgame. They certainly adjusted to the circumstances better than the Bulldogs, who lost to Georgetown at Hinkle for the fourth time in a row. Here’s a look at how it all went down:

Feb. 9, 2020: 76-57 loss at Marquette

You might be noticing a pattern when it comes to what month these worst games were played in. The Bulldogs went 3-5 in February, with one of those five losses coming in Milwaukee against the Golden Eagles. Butler was looking to build off the momentum it captured with that buzzer-beater victory against Villanova, but Marquette had different plans.

Butler started 7-of-14 shooting from the field, but converted roughly a third of its shots and was outscored by 20 points the rest of the way. Sean McDermott finished without a made field goal and Butler players not named Kamar Baldwin or Bryce Nze shot just 22%, with none tallying more than seven points.

In the end, the then 19th-ranked Bulldogs scored just 57 points, their lowest output of Big East action. Certainly not a game to look upon fondly as a Butler fan.

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