The Butler Bulldog defense set the tone early and never really let the visiting Richmond Spiders back into the game. In front of around 7,000 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Wednesday, January 16, Butler ran away with their first Atlantic 10 conference home game and 12th straight win, 62-47.
Richmond was able to snag a very early 2-0 edge just 15 seconds into the contest, but Kellen Dunham knocked down a three-pointer to put the Bulldogs up 3-2 and they never looked back. Dunham got the nod to start at guard with Alex Barlow because of the injury to Rotnei Clarke on Saturday at Dayton. Clarke sat out against Richmond and will again on Saturday, January 19 when Butler hosts #8 Gonzaga at 9 p.m. on ESPN. ESPN's College Gameday is making historic Hinkle Fieldhouse its first destination of college basketball season.
Balanced scoring and rebounding was exactly what Butler needed to do and did, in order to makeup for the absence of Clarke (16.3 ppg.). Just as it happened following Clarke exiting Saturday's game at Dayton, the Bulldogs found a way to make it happen, no matter who put points on the scoreboard.
One of the biggest things that helped Butler absolutely dominate the Spiders for a full 40 minutes was how they took Richmond right out of the rebounding equation by the large margin of 53-20. Outrebounding an opponent by an astounding 33 rebounds is a remarkable feat in, not just Division I basketball, but any level of basketball for that matter. Richmond was without 6'6 power forward Derrick Williams, who weighs in at a beefy 275 pounds. Williams recently sprained his ankle and did not dress for the Spiders.
Five consecutive points by Roosevelt Jones broke a 6-6 tie that would springboard he and his Bulldog teammates to cushion their lead to at least eight and as much as 20 (46-26) with 12:41 left.
After a decent start, the Spiders hit a cold streak by shooting 4-of-23 and found itself trailing 23-11 on Alex Barlow's jump shot with 5:27 left until halftime.
Spiders guard Deion Taylor helped get some of Richmond's sanity back by sticking with Butler during the final 4:33 of the first half with two three's, tying Butler 10-10 during that span, to trail 33-21.
Richmond fought back a little in the second half and made things a little interesting, getting things under 10 with 8:23 left, 50-41. Darien Brothers scored 10 of his team-high 12 points, but it wasn't enough to bring the Spiders back.
Butler was able to count on whoever stepped up on the hardwood to get the job done and produce a win. Finding depth might be one big key that the Bulldogs figured out in their first outing without starting guard Rotnei Clarke. Quality minutes were had by more than just the starting five, but off the bench by Kameron Woods, Erik Fromm, Chase Stigall, Jackson Aldridge and Andy Smeathers.
Skeptics across the country that might have thought Butler would struggle in the offensive department without sharp-shooting Rotnei Clarke. Some probably assumed that Butler was getting pretty anxious and looking ahead to Saturday's matchup with matchup with #8 Gonzaga on primetime television. Not at all.
"Our whole team was focused," said Stevens. "You can tell by the way we came out. These guys were ready for Richmond."
Spreading out the scoring was another thing that really threw Richmond right out of their defensive game plan. Andrew Smith led Butler and all scorers with a game-high 15 points and also snagged seven rebounds and dished out three assists. Smith was last week's A-10 conference Player of the Week and he proved enough that he deserved the accolade. Jones filled out his stat sheet pretty well, scoring 10 and ripping down 12 boards and had four assists.
Dunham finally got himself back into double-figure scoring with 11 points. Woods had another solid game with eight points and seven rebounds. Alex Barlow keeps proving why he starts at guard for Brad Stevens' squad. Barlow might have only scored five, but also had five rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes of action. Fromm and Smeathers each also pitched in five points. Khyle Marshall scored just three points and had five boards, but that allowed for the Bulldog bench to get minutes and show how they can provide depth.
Saturday's much-anticipated meeting with #8 Gonzaga (17-1) is one that basketball junkies have looked forward to. #13 Butler (15-2) and the visiting Bulldogs from Spokane, Washington, have both been known since the mid-1990's as "mid-majors" in the eyes of the media. They've both ditched that particular label in recent seasons. Gonzaga has been to 15 NCAA Tournaments, reaching the Sweet 16 five times. Butler, on the other hand, has upped the ante to their foes from the West Coast Conference. Butler almost won the National Championship in two consecutive seasons (2010 and 2011), shocking the college basketball world. Hinkle Fieldhouse will be packed to the gills Saturday!