Despite infant son's death, Butler assistant gives pep talk, sparks win
INDIANAPOLIS — Butler's basketball players came up big for "Little Em" on Tuesday night.
They played with passion, determination and focus — and it showed.
One day after the 6-month-old son of staff member Emerson Kampen died from a terminal genetic disease, the Bulldogs took control early and ran away from Georgetown 87-76 — then dedicated the win to the Kampen family. The father is the Bulldogs basketball analyst.
"Little Em and Emerson and Kylie (Emerson's wife) fought really courageously. What an amazing, amazing little kid," Butler coach Chris Holtmann said, pausing as he tried to control his emotions. "On Monday morning, he lost his battle. So today, this game had some added importance. We want Kylie and Emerson and his family to know that this one is for them and we're thinking about them."
Kelan Martin scored a career-high 35 points, had eight rebounds and four blocked shots as Butler won for just the second time in five games.
But the victory, like the blowout win they had Jan. 16 against St. John's, was about a lot more than basketball.
Back then, Holtmann somberly handed the game ball to the father of Andrew Smith, the 25-year-old former Butler center who died after a two-year battle with cancer.
This time, the Bulldogs (15-7, 4-6 Big East) were playing for the Kampens and their late son, Emerson IV, who had been diagnosed with Leigh's Disease about a month earlier.
Ironically, Kampen and Smith had been linked together since both arrived on campus in 2009-10. They were Butler teammates all four seasons and played on both of the Bulldogs' national runner-up teams. After Smith's death, Kampen donated bone marrow to a 59-year-old man who was battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Although Kampen was missing from the bench, his presence was felt throughout Hinkle Fieldhouse — even in the locker room where he appeared on Skype at halftime.
On the court, the Bulldogs looked inspired.
Martin made 10 of 18 field goals, including three 3-pointers, and 12 of 13 free throws.
Roosevelt Jones had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists and Kellen Dunham scored 18 for the Bulldogs.
"These guys were locked in for the bulk of the game," said Holtmann, who kept the death out of the public eye until his postgame news conference. "It's a tremendous win. We'll see if we can build on this in the coming days of practice."
Georgetown (13-10, 6-4) jumped to a 9-5 lead but Martin scored 11 points, including three 3s, during a 16-2 run that put the Bulldogs in front, for good, with 12 minutes left in the first half.
The Hoyas trimmed their deficit to 80-74 on a 3-point play by Isaac Copeland with 1:11 to play, but missed their final three shots and got no closer.
Butler hit five 3-pointers, turned seven offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points in the first half and took a 40-31 lead into the break.
L.J. Peak scored a season-high 22 and Smith-Rivera added 21 points and seven assists for Georgetown.