INDIANAPOLIS – The play continued for a couple of seconds Monday as several players jockeyed for position underneath the rim at Hinkle Fieldhouse. A shot was made, but really, that was an afterthought and the play may prove to have long-term ramifications.
In the short term, though, Butler managed to claw out a 72-65 win over the worst team in the Horizon League.
Illinois-Chicago had turned the ball over with less than three seconds remaining before halftime, and Butler was awarded possession on the sideline. Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens called timeout and drew up a play, which worked to perfection as guard Shawn Vanzant drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the hosts a 34-33 halftime lead.
Lost amid the screaming fans as VanZant's shot sank through the net was that Butler's best player, Matt Howard, was on his back in the middle of the lane. Eventually he was helped to his feet, and as he stood up a gruesome sight sent gasps through the crowd of 5,287.
Howard had been accidentally hit on the face. A knot rose over his left eye, then exploded in blood, which covered his face.
Back in the locker room, Howard received stitches and will undergo testing for a concussion.
The senior forward didn't return to the game, nor did he join his team on the bench in the second half.
“He's out for now,” Stevens said of Howard. “But he's going to be monitored day to day. They're going to make sure and go through all of the steps.”
Howard had played well in the first half. He connected on all four of his shots and grabbed five rebounds. In his absence, though, the Butler defense (16-9, 8-5) got aggressive in the second half.
“I thought defensively, we were really active,” Stevens said. “I thought our guards were outstanding on the ball.”
Over a span of 4:34 midway through the second half, the Bulldogs forced four turnovers by the Flames and stretched their lead from two (46-44) to 13 (59-46).
“First of all, I want to send out my prayers and best wishes to Matt Howard,” UIC coach Howard Moore said to open his post-game news conference. “I hope he's doing well.”
“I have to give Butler a lot of credit for really disrupting our out-of-bounds plays,” Moore said. “Those turnovers were crucial possessions.”
Butler placed four players in double figures, led by Shelvin Mack (17 points). Also producing in the victory were Andrew Smith (eight points, six rebounds), Zach Hahn (10 points), Ronald Nored (10 points, eight rebounds) and Khyle Marshall (11 points).
With the victory, the Bulldogs are tied for third in the conference with Milwaukee (13-11, 8-5) and trail Valparaiso (17-7, 9-3), Cleveland State (21-5, 10-4) and Wright State (17-9, 10-4).