No. 12 Butler 70, Wright St. 45

No. 12 Butler insists the real work is just beginning.

After winning 20 straight games, cruising to the Horizon League
regular-season title and routing second-seeded Wright State 70-45
for the conference tournament title Tuesday night, the Bulldogs
suddenly have bigger aspirations.

Among them: extending the nation’s longest winning streak.
They’ll get to try that in next week’s NCAA tournament.

“It’s pretty good, but I hope the guys aren’t happy with this,
that they don’t want this to be the highlight of their year,”
tournament MVP Matt Howard said. “So I don’t know when we’re going
to practice again, but I hope when we get back, they’ve got a
bigger goal and a bigger vision in mind.”

Clearly, the Bulldogs (28-4) want to prove they’re a worthy foe
in the 65-team NCAA field.

Butler hasn’t lost since Dec. 22 at Alabama-Birmingham. Its
latest victory was every bit as one-sided as the Bulldogs’ rampage
through the Horizon League. They head into NCAA play as the only
Division I team to complete a perfect conference season, going 20-0
against league foes including the two tournament games.

Howard, last season’s Horizon League player of the year, had 14
points and nine rebounds. Shelvin Mack scored all 14 of his points,
including four 3-pointers, in the first half. Zach Hahn came off
the bench to score 11 points, and Gordon Hayward, this season’s
conference player of the year, had eight points and four
rebounds.

The game was so lopsided coach Brad Stevens allowed only one
Butler player to log more than 30 minutes, and the final 15 minutes
felt more like a coronation than a celebration.

It was exactly how Butler envisioned finishing this season after
spending the past 12 months reliving those agonizing memories from
the loss to Cleveland State in last year’s final.

Now there’s a new mission for the Bulldogs, who bowed out to LSU
in the first round last season.

“If we prepare well, I think we can pretty dangerous,” Butler
guard Ronald Nored said. “I thought last year in the tournament
LSU made some tougher plays than we did. We didn’t play great and
we only lost by four, so I think those kind of plays in the
tournament will separate you.”

Only one player for Wright State (20-12) reached double figures.
N’Gai Evans had 13 points, but Todd Brown, who is in Wright State’s
1,000-point club, was shut out.

How bad was it?

“I apologize we didn’t play better,” Raiders coach Brad
Brownell said. “We’re a better team than we showed tonight, but
certainly Butler was playing at a high level. Any time you get
behind against them, it’s really hard and makes it really
challenging for you to come back.”

Butler took charge right from the start.

The Bulldogs set the tone in the first three minutes when Mack
opened the game with two straight 3-pointers and Howard followed
that with a three-point play.

Mack’s third 3 gave Butler a 17-9 lead just eight minutes into
the game, and the Bulldogs extended the halftime to margin to
42-28. Butler’s eight 3s coupled with Howard’s two three-point
plays in the first half accounted for 30 points.

And the Bulldogs were only getting started.

They made it 51-30 when Hahn hit a 3 with 15:35 left in the
game, and then cranked up the defensive pressure.

Wright State scored only 17 points in the final 20 minutes, not
nearly enough to prevent Butler from taking the conference’s
automatic NCAA bid.

“One of the things that’s neat about this run is that they’ve
brought it every single night and in games where, quite frankly,
people would really get on them if they lost and they don’t care,”
Stevens said after high-fiving his players. “These guys just
believe in doing the right things.”