LEXINGTON – With just under 11 minutes to go in his team's game with Bucknell on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Butler coach Brad Stevens knew that he had a problem on his hands.
The Bison had found their rhythm offensively against a stellar Bulldogs defense and four consecutive Bucknell baskets had brought the Bison back from a 26-16 deficit to a 35-31 lead to cap a 19-5 run.
To add to the Bulldogs' situation, Bucknell had the Bulldogs perplexed by implementing a rarely-played “triangle and two” defensive alignment.
So how did Stevens react? Concerned, yet incredibly calm.
From that point forward, sixth-seed Butler (27-8) took back control of the game and ultimately won relatively easily 68-56 at Rupp Arena. The Bulldogs will face Marquette on Saturday (time TBA).
“I don't think that you'll ever see Brad get rattled,” Butler assistant coach Mike Lewis said. “He's a very calming influence on the sideline and guys see that.”
Lewis was caught up in that moment directly, because Stevens called a timeout, everyone sat down in the huddle, and he brought Lewis down beside him and began to pick his brain.
“The bottom line was we were drawing up some different ways to attack the triangle and two,” Stevens said.
The Bison (28-6) had dominated most of its opponents this season in a myriad of ways, but stymieing them with a triangle and two defense wasn't one of them. Stevens had seen a handful of possessions with that defense played by Bucknell in his film study, but not many. With only a couple of days to prepare his team, Lewis and Stevens didn't spend an abundance of time preparing the Bulldog players for it.
“What do you spend your time on,” Stevens posed the question. “Do you spend your time preparing for their offensive stuff? Do you prepare for their defensive stuff? Or do you prepare for something they probably played 30 possessions all year?”
Butler had really struggled offensively throughout the game (the Bulldogs shot 32 percent in the first half), but it was mostly due to missed open shots (0 for 9 from three-point range) in the first 20 minutes. It wasn't due to any Bison defensive scheme. But after the Bulldogs opened the second half on a 5-2 run, Bucknell threw Butler its defensive curve.
“When they went triangle and two, which they call “double fist,” Stevens said, “we missed a couple early and then it kind of put us on our heels.”
During that huddle, Stevens sought Lewis' input, shook his head and then asked some more questions, and then passed on Lewis' ideas to his players. It worked.
Following another Bucknell bucket (37-31 Bison lead), Butler responded with a 8-0 run, which ultimately grew to a 22-5 tear.
“We attacked (Bucknell's defense) really well late and got them out of (the triangle and two),” Stevens said. “Once you see that ball go in (the basket), you feel a little different against when people trick defense you and those type of things.”
The win is Stevens' 12th in 16 NCAA Tournament games and it is the fourth time in five tournaments that Stevens has guided the Bulldogs to an opening game victory.
“There are a lot of teams in this tournament that wouldn't be able to withstand a 16-point swing and then have a 16-point swing of their own,” Stevens said. “I'm really proud of the way that they stuck together.”