There was a moment on Thursday afternoon when the Bulldogs (27-8) may have looked as if they were in trouble in their 68-56 victory over Bucknell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs, despite shooting just 32.1% from the field, were still leading at the half by the score of 21-14. However the team had yet to find any offensive rhythm, and this carried into the second half as Bucknell outscored the Bulldogs 23-8 in the first ten minutes of the period.
In fact, it wasn’t until Butler Senior Andrew Smith cut a four-point deficit down to 37-36 did the Bulldogs make their first three-point field goal of the game at the 9:07 mark. It wasn’t necessarily a pretty victory for the Bulldogs, but one that Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens was happy with, especially with how the team responded throughout the rest of the game to ultimately win by double-digits.
“It is the most important thing,” said Stevens on his team’s ability to withstand a run like Bucknell had.
“For them to be able to go minus-sixteen, it was a sixteen point turnaround after Khyle (Marshall) made his free throw. To win the game by twelve after going down six, that is one of those things that people can’t quantify that gives you a chance to win games. That intestinal fortitude was huge. Andrew Smith, the huge three in the corner, and that kind of got us back going again.”
Despite Smith’s three, the Bulldogs heavily struggled on their long range efforts. Butler shot 3-17 from behind the arc, with Senior Rotnei Clarke only shooting 2-8 with his signature shot. Clarke still finished the game with 17 points though, and feels confident the team will be able to rebound before their match-up with Marquette on Saturday.
“We missed our first thirteen, which is pretty cold shooting,” said Clarke with a grin. “But for us to be able to pull it out, when we aren’t shooting well like that, is huge.”
But the Bulldogs know that the only stat that matters in the NCAA tournament is getting a victory, and the team seemed most happy that even on a poor shooting day, their defense could make up for it.
“As you have seen this year, we can win games many different ways,” said Alex Barlow, who finished with 10 points and four steals.
“We scored 88 to beat Indiana, and we’ve scored in the 50’s and 60’s to win games. I think we just play to the best of our ability, to the best of the game-plan our coaches give us, and we knew that was how it was going to be because that’s how Bucknell plays. Fortunately, we were just able to hit a few more shots than them.”