SALT LAKE CITY — Chris Holtmann knew he had learned a lot about his Butler team during a weeklong, three game road trip — for better or worse. The ride back to Indianapolis will be a pleasant one for the third-year coach after a clean sweep.
Kelan Martin scored 18 points as No. 18 Butler remained undefeated with a 68-59 victory over Utah on Monday night. The loss was the first of the season for the Utes.
“It's been a long week, but a full week and a really good week,” Holtmann said. “I'd have had a different look on my face if we had been 0-3 on this stretch, but either way we were going to learn a lot of stuff.
“The experience of playing on (at Utah) and in a road environment and what comes out of that that you learn — moving on to the next possession and playing with poise under duress. Those were the things we were going to hope came out of it, and it did.”
Butler controlled the game from the opening tip and trailed just once at 20-19. The Bulldogs responded to that with a 14-3 run to take a 10-point lead.
A 13-4 run early in the second half, highlighted by a deep 3-pointer from Tyler Lewis, put Utah away. Butler did what it's done all season — shoot well from the field, play stingy defense and limit turnovers. The Bulldogs shot 52.8 percent and held the Utes to 36.5 percent.
Tyler Wideman chipped in 15 points for Butler, which moved into the Top 25 earlier Monday.
Kyle Kuzma led Utah with 21 points and 10 rebounds while Lorenzo Bonam finished with 17 points.
Butler took a 33-27 lead into halftime after a clunky first half in which both teams struggled in their own way. The Bulldogs were efficient from the field, shooting 56.0 percent, and played stout defense. That defense, however, fouled so often Utah was able to remain in the game.
The Utes missed open shots and layups and turned over the ball repeatedly. They shot just 30.8 percent in the first half, including 2 for 13 from behind the arc, but outrebounded the Bulldogs by nine and hit eight more free throws. That balanced the 10 turnovers and the 17 points Butler scored off them.
“I don't think I've been involved with a college basketball game (before now) where the other team scored 23 points off our turnovers. It's damn near impossible to do,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “You can't defend turnovers, and we basically turned it over to the point where they scored right away.
“This was the first test for us, really, if you look at our schedule. The timing was about right after a handful of games and we didn't do a good job with the test. But we can't learn unless we're put in a position where there's a little adversity.”
Butler: The Bulldogs are rolling after a road trip that included wins over Utah, No. 16 Arizona and Vanderbilt. Butler has a strong chance for an 11-0 start heading into the Crossroads Classic against No. 13 Indiana.
UTAH: The Utes were tested for the first time after beginning the season against two Division II teams and two lower non-Power 5 teams. The team clearly awaits the availability of point guard Sedrick Barefield and power forward David Collette, who will be eligible against Prairie View A&M on Dec. 17 after transferring in last year.
Butler just entered the Top 25 this week and doesn't look to be going anywhere soon. Monday should be considered the fourth quality win of the season and with just a home game against Central Arkansas remaining this week, the Bulldogs are unlikely to drop.
Krystkowiak remains at 99 wins wearing the red and white. He currently sits at 99-74 in his sixth season. Krystkowiak had a 42-20 record in two seasons at Montana from 2004-06.
“Honestly, I don't think they did a lot,” Kuzma said. “I'm not saying that just because we lost. A lot of credit to them. We had a lot of blatant turnovers that we shouldn't have had, and that affected a lot of things we did today.”
Butler: The Bulldogs return from a three-game road trip to host Central Arkansas on Saturday.