Bulldogs overcome poor play to grab league road win
By Tom Davis, Tdavis@news-sentinel.com
Sunday, January 08, 2017 9:57 PM
Late in regulation play of Butler’s most recent win, an 85-76 victory at Georgetown, the thought of victory wasn’t on the minds of many in the Bulldog Nation.
Butler had allowed a 63-57 advantage slip completely away by exhibiting some horrendous play at both ends of the floor.
Over a 3:44 stretch, the 18th-ranked Bulldogs (14-2, 3-1 Big East) fouled the Hoyas (8-8, 0-4 Big East) five times while also missing five shots. When the morass was finished, Georgetown led 66-63 and Butler coach Chris Holtmann had benched the Bulldogs’ leading scorer (junior forward Kelan Martin).
“It wasn’t always like we wanted it to be,” Holtmann said in a postgame press conference. “But much like it is on the road in most situations, you are going to have to weather some of that and I thought we weathered it and made the necessary plays.”
Those type of “necessary plays” began with a game-tying 3-pointer with just 54 seconds remaining from sophomore Nate Fowler, who played the best game of his young career.
He later sealed the overtime session by hitting a pair of game-tying free throws with eight seconds left.
Fowler played a career-best 19 minutes and finished with 11 points and four rebounds.
“It was a little bit different from last year,” Fowler said of being used sparingly as a freshman. “But I’ve been practicing a lot this off-season and this year have gotten used to being in those situations.”
The Bulldogs have had to overcome recent opponents that have dominated them in Providence (the Friars had beaten Butler 6 of 7 times) and Villanova (the Wildcats owned a 6-0 advantage over Butler in three seasons), so stepping up to challenges, even overcoming themselves at times, is what this team is built on according to senior forward Andrew Chrabascz.
“We just stuck together,” Chrabascz said after his team upset No. 1-ranked Villanova last week. “We did the same thing against (Providence). We didn’t let the adversity tear us apart at all. We just stuck together and that is going to be a big thing going forward for this team.”
Future looks bright
Martin connected on just 3 of 13 shots against the Hoyas and found himself on the bench in the game’s most critical moments Saturday. It wasn’t the first time this season that Holtmann had sent his leading scorer a message.
Martin was benched at the start of a game against then-22nd-ranked Cincinnati and his 30 minutes (a staggering amount considering the game went into overtime) was his fewest since a loss at Indiana State (he played just 27 minutes in that game). However, Like Fowler, freshman guard Kamar Baldwin played like an experienced veteran to carry Butler at times.
Baldwin played 41 minutes in the win and finished with team-bests of 16 points and four steals, as well as also grabbing five rebounds.
“I thought (Baldwin and Fowler) were critical,” Holtmann said.
Baldwin went through a rough three-game stretch earlier this season in which he missed 23 of 30 shots, but over the past eight games, he has connected on 27 of 53 shots and is shooting 51 percent overall and over 43 percent from 3-point range.
“The moment is not too big for him,” Holtmann said of Baldwin recently. “It’s not been too big for him in his short time here in college.”
Baldwin is not only proving capable on the court, he is learning from the words of Chrabascz and Holtmann off of it, as well.
“Coach always tells us,” Baldwin said of high-stress situations, “we just have to stay together and stay connected and we did that (against Georgetown). We had to stay together and force it into overtime.”
Big East battles
Holtmann has spoken many times of the toughness needed to win in the Big East and that is both in a literal and figurative sense. That was evident against Georgetown and he wasn’t thrilled with how his team responded – initially.
“Georgetown really set the tone with their physicality in the first half,” Holtmann said. “I think that I have to do a better job of just preparing our guys for that, because I think they popped us early.”
Holtmann comprehends that there are no days off in this league. St. John’s won just one league game a year ago, while Georgetown was 7-11 last season, and Butler has already lost to one of those teams and nearly both.
“They keep coming at us one after another,” Holtmann said recently of the league tests. “For us, the mantra is just everyday ‘Can we be better than we were the last time out?’ It’s our only chance here given the league we play in.”
Need proof of that?
Butler travels to 10th-ranked Creighton (13-1, 3-1 Big East) Wednesday at 9 p.m. (FS1).