No. 23 Butler rallies past Valpo in second half

Butler‘s shooting touch is back.

Not surprisingly, the victories are following.

Five players scored in double figures Saturday, and the Bulldogs shot 68.8 percent in the second half, propelling them to an 84-67 rout of Valparaiso in their Horizon League opener.

“It was great to be back home and shoot like that,” said Gordon Hayward, who had 18 points and five assists.

Perhaps getting home was just what Butler (6-2, 1-0) needed.

It had spent the past three weeks traveling around Indiana and out to California, road trips that seemed to take a toll on the Bulldogs energy.

On Saturday, those struggles were gone.

The Bulldogs shot a season-high 56.8 percent from the field, missing only five second-half shots. Butler also was 27 of 34 from the free throw line, forced 15 turnovers and held the nation’s No. 15 scorer, Brandon Wood, 16 points below his 23-point average.

The combination was too much for a Valparaiso team that was averaging a conference-high 77.1 points.

But it wasn’t Butler‘s torrid second-half shooting that frustrated Crusaders coach Homer Drew most.

“For 17 minutes, I thought we really played well,” Drew said. “We got the lead and then they came back with a 13-2 run and their defense changed the momentum. That’s what they do. We did not initiate things, they did.”

And once Butler‘s shooters warmed up, well, it looked like the Bulldogs of last season.

Matt Howard, the reigning conference player of the year, finished with 16 points and five rebounds. Willie Veasley had 15 points and five rebounds, Shelvin Mack scored 11 points and backup Avery Jukes finished with 10 in his most active game of the season.

Butler was 7 of 17 on 3-pointers, including a near perfect 4 of 6 in the final 20 minutes and won its eighth straight in this series. The Bulldogs have also won 15 in a row over Indiana schools and are 35-2 in their last 37 home games against conference foes.

“I think our guys on one end of the floor, really, really did a good job,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Offensively, I thought we were moving the ball well.”

That was missing last weekend when the Bulldogs lost two of three games on their trip to California, and the resurgence couldn’t come at a better time. Butler faces No. 16 Georgetown on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

But Stevens still has some concerns on defense.

Though Wood was held scoreless until the 10:02 mark in the second half, and Brandon McPherson, another double-figure scorer for Valparaiso (3-5, 0-1), was also scoreless in the first half, Valparaiso found some other holes to exploit.

Cory Johnson made 6 of 8 field-goal attempts, all five free throws and finished with 17 points. Howard Little had 14 points, and Michael Rogers and Tommy Kurth combined to hit five 3s in the first half – matching their previous combined total from the first seven games.

Clearly, that wasn’t what Stevens wanted to see.

“I think we can get better (on defense), but I don’t want to take anything away from their guys,” Stevens said. “Usually when you have 15 points on 3-pointers, off the bench that’s not a good position to be in.”

Thanks to the 3s from Rogers and Kurth, Valparaiso turned a 14-7 deficit into a 23-18 lead with 6:51 left in the first half.

That’s when Butler‘s shooters took over. The Bulldogs closed the half by making 6 of 10 shots and outscoring Valparaiso 20-9, taking a 38-32 lead.

Butler didn’t slow down after the break. Hayward opened by converting a three-point play, then driving in for a dunk to make it 43-32. And when Valpo ran off six straight points to close to 45-40, Veasley answered with back-to-back 3s, starting a 10-0 run that gave Butler a 55-40 lead with 14 minutes to go.

The Crusaders didn’t get closer than 13 the rest of the way.

“They had five guys in double figures and that’s why they’re so hard to defend. You can’t just concentrate on the big three,” Drew said. “They shoot the ball well, they defend well, they do everything well.”