Butler’s struggles continue in 88-69 loss at Xavier
CINCINNATI — Consecutive losses have No. 9 Butler trying some new things.
The Bulldogs changed their starting lineup Saturday but wound up taking their worst loss in two seasons. Remy Abell scored a career-high 21 points as No. 6 Xavier pulled away to an 88-69 victory.
Butler (11-3, 0-2 Big East) shook up its starting lineup after an 81-73 home loss to No. 12 Providence on Thursday, but the Bulldogs’ high-scoring offense couldn’t get much done against one of the league’s best defenses. It was the fewest points the Bulldogs had scored this season, and the most they have given up.
Roosevelt Jones had 14 points for Butler, which took its most lopsided loss since a 67-48 defeat at Villanova on Feb. 26, 2014.
"We obviously have to get a lot better, that’s the bottom line," coach Chris Holtmann said. "We’re not near where we need to be right now. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us."
The Musketeers (13-1, 1-1) were coming off a 95-64 loss at No. 16 Villanova on Thursday that ended the best start in school history. Xavier led most of the way Saturday, taking control with a 13-1 run in the second half.
"They have very few weaknesses right now," Holtmann said. "They’ve got a lot of different weapons and a lot of different guys that can hurt you, and a lot of different ways to hurt you."
James Farr added 13 points and eight rebounds for Xavier, which had five players in double figures and shot 56 percent from the field — the highest percentage the Bulldogs have allowed.
The Musketeers were missing point guard Edmond Sumner, who fell hard during the loss at Villanova and is recovering from a concussion. It’s unclear how long he will be sidelined.
Butler has been waiting for its leading scorer to regain his touch. Kellen Dunham averages 15 points per game, but hadn’t made a 3-pointer in his last four games since Dec. 12, going 0 for 21. In his last five games, he was 10 of 60 from the field.
Dunham wasn’t in the starting lineup as the Bulldogs tried something different. Dunham came off the bench with 14:30 left in the first half, missed a layup and then hit his first 3-point attempt to snap his slump. He picked up his second foul midway through the half and went back to the bench.
"Certainly we need him to make shots for us to beat good people, but we’ve beaten good people without him making shots," Holtmann said. "Kellen’s got to play the rest of the game the way we expect him to play. He’s got to play defense at a high level, he’s got to rebound for us. He’s not just a shot maker."
He finished with 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
"I was happy to see some shots fall, but it wasn’t enough," Dunham said. "I was shooting with the expectation that they will go in. They are going to go in. I have confidence the rest of the year."
Xavier opened with a 23-15 run led by 12 points from Abell, who got open shots with Butler double-teaming inside. Forward Jalen Reynolds’ second career 3-pointer pushed it to 29-17.
Dunham got back into the game and hit a long 3 that cut the lead to three, but Bluiett had two fast-break layups and Davis hit a 3 at the buzzer that gave Xavier a 45-35 halftime lead — the most points Butler has allowed in an opening half this season.
Xavier had four turnovers at the start of the second half that helped Butler cut it to 49-45. Farr had a follow-up dunk and a lay-in during a 13-1 run that put Xavier in control at 68-53. The Musketeers led by as many as 24 points.
Butler: The Bulldogs made a return trip to Cincinnati. They beat the 17th-ranked Bearcats 78-76 on Dec. 2.
Xavier: The Musketeers are 8-0 at home this season and 209-30 all-time at the Cintas Center. … They have won three of their last four against Butler overall.
Butler: plays at DePaul on Tuesday.
Xavier: plays at St. John’s on Wednesday.