INDIANAPOLIS – It was his first one as a head coach, yet Brandon Miller wasn’t afraid to get to the pulpit to preach about the event’s three year impact.
“You talk about the programs playing in the event, the atmosphere-you have a tournament like atmosphere,” said the Butler head coach of the Crossroads Classic featuring his Bulldogs, Purdue, Indiana and Notre Dame.
In many ways he’s right. The stadium was sold out with 18,165 fans and featured four teams that do have hopes to play tournament basketball in a few months. While a majority of them were clad in red for the Hoosiers, a number of them did stay to watch Miller’s team face the Boilermakers in the second game of a double-header.
What those fans saw, however, might be another big reason Miller would like to see the event continue: His team’s unmatched success. Granted its been just three seasons, but the Bulldogs are the only team among the quartet to sport a perfect 3-0 record in the Classic.
Butler got that Saturday evening with a 76-70 win over Purdue-the second time they’ve beaten the Boilermakers in the one-day classic featuring local teams. Andrew Smith’s last-second tip in gave Butler the win over Purdue in the inaugural game of the Crossroads Classic two years ago and Alex Barlow’s overtime layup helped the Bulldogs score an upset over No. 1 ranked Indiana in 2012.
This year Butler built as much as a 16-point lead in the second half before holding off a late Purdue rally to improve to a suprising 8-2 record this season-one that comes following the departure of head coach Brad Stevens to the Celtics and the loss of guard Roosevelt Jones for the season.
“We know rankings our just a number, just people’s opinions,” said forward Khyle Marshall of the preseason expectations for the team following the pre-season personnel losses. “We know what we have here, we know what type of program, we know the type of guys we have.”
Marshall is one of those enjoying a strong season and he continued it against Purdue with 18 points while his teammate Kellen Dunham led the way with 25 points. Purdue was paced by Terone Johnson’s 20 points on the evening with Bryson Scott chipping in 13 and A.J. Hammons 10 but in the end they couldn’t overcome a strong second half Bulldogs surge to pick up their ninth win of the year.
“I thought Butler was tougher than us today,” said head coach Matt Painter. “I don’t want to say they’re a tougher basketball team but they sure played tougher today.”
Painter saw the Bulldogs at their best after his team took a six-point lead early in the second half on a tip-in by Errick Peck with 16:15 to go. The rest of the half belonged to Butler as the Dunham-Marshall combination along with nine second half points by freshman Elijah Brown helped the Bulldogs go on a 32-10 run that busted the lead to 16.
Purdue made a last minute surge to take the lead from 12 down to 4 with 20 seconds left on a two-and-foul by Basil Smotherman but it was too late to deny the Bulldogs another Crossroads Classic victory.
“Like Kellen (Dunham) said, he’s grown up playing with some of the guys he’s competing against and against some of the guys,” said Miller. “I hope the event lasts a very, very long time.”
The Bulldogs’ win column would support that opinion.