All week long the Butler Bulldogs (27-8) gave credit to Bucknell’s Mike Muscala, the Patriot League Most Valuable Player that entered into Thursday’s NCAA Tournament game averaging 19 points and 11.2 rebounds. The Bulldogs made it sound pretty simple; when the 6’11 Muscala is rolling, the Bison win.
So it was pretty evident on Thursday afternoon that the Bulldogs did everything in their power to smother Muscala in the 68-56 victory, making him feel uncomfortable on his way to a 4-17 performance from the field, scoring just nine points all game long.
“That was our primary focus,” said Junior forward Khyle Marshall, who finished the game with seven points and one rebound. “We know it starts with him. I know he is going to be playing somewhere after his college career, so best of luck to him. We were fortunate enough to be physical with him, and we had a lot of guys rotate on him. We had fresh guys guarding him, and it worked out really well.”
Marshall started off guarding Muscala, but a rotating door of Andrew Smith, Erik Fromm, and even Roosevelt Jones found himself guarding the much-taller Muscala. At different times of the game though when Muscala had the ball down deep, Butler guards Rotnei Clarke and Alex Barlow would then sink in to help whoever the defender was at the time, and Muscala was just never able to find a groove because of it.
“It wasn’t really double-teaming,” said Butler Senior Andrew Smith.
“We were just sinking off the players who can’t really shoot the ball on Bucknell. And our guards were great at that, kind of flying in and out, disrupting him a little bit and confusing him. We kept him on his toes, and it worked out pretty well for us.”
Smith ended up becoming the star of the game in the battle of the big men, finishing the night with a double-double with 14 points and 16 rebounds. After the contest, Bucknell’s Muscala had nothing but praise for the Butler center.
“Very good post defender,” said Muscala about Smith.
“You know, I think I tried to be aggressive. I thought I got some pretty decent looks, but like I said, he did a really good job of being physical with me. I knew he was very physical going in. I tired to get up, face up and stuff like that, but just the shots didn’t drop today.”
Butler will now have to worry about a new set of big men on Saturday against Marquette (24-8), a team the Bulldogs defeated 72-71 back on November 19th.