The Butler players didn’t try to shield their formula for offensive success from their NCAA Tournament opponent Winthrop. Senior forward Andrew Chrabascz spoke of the Bulldogs’ gameplan Wednesday during a press conference in Milwaukee.
“When we’re moving,” Chrabascz said, “like getting the ball swinging side to side, when we have first side shots, normally those are the tough ones. When we’re getting paint touches as well, that just sucks the defense in and then opens up 3-point opportunities a lot more.”
Offensively, that ball movement, paint touches that led to open 3-pointers, and controlling the pace of the game were all factors in Butler beating Winthrop 76-64 in Milwaukee to open the tournament at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The Bulldogs (24-8) advance to the second round against Middle Tennessee State (31-4) Saturday (time and broadcast TBA).
Butler’s strategy was to start each offensive possession with a post feed and where the offense led from that point on would be determined by the Eagle defenders.
Chrabascz was on the receiving end of a lot of those feeds, but the ball – in the first half anyway – seemingly always found Bulldog shooter Avery Woodson eventually.
The Memphis transfer made five 3-pointers in the first half to give Butler a 14-point halftime lead that it would never really come close to relinquishing.
“They do a great job of playing inside out,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said of Butler during a postgame press conference. “The speed of their ball movement early on was faster than the moving parts of our defense and we got lost a couple of times in rotation.”
Woodson only made one more long shot following halftime, but that sixth one gave him a team-best 18 points and a career mark for 3-pointers made in a game.
“We let the Woodson kid get a couple of open looks,” Kelsey explained. “He’s already a very, very good 3-point shooter. When you give him three, four steps, where he can kind of lick his fingers and measure the wind and shoot it, he’s going to make 80 percent of those.”
Woodson made just 60 percent (6 of 10), but Kelsey’s point was well taken.
The Bulldogs swung the ball making the Eagle defense continually chase it, and when Winthrop wasn’t chasing the ball, it was chasing fifth-year point guard Tyler Lewis.
Lewis controlled the pace of the game with his ball handling, preventing it from getting too fast for Winthrop’s liking, and dished out eight assists with just one turnover.
Following a pair of recent losses in which the Bulldogs had just 10 and nine assists on 21 makes each in the two games, they responded Thursday with 15 assists on 24 makes.
“I really liked our willingness to share the ball for the most part,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We’ve seen (Lewis) do that all year. He kind of comes in and makes really impactful stretches.”
One of those “impactful stretches” came midway through the second half, as Winthrop was making a charge.
The Eagles (26-7) had cut their deficit in half to seven (48-41), but the Bulldogs responded with a 14-2 run and were never seriously threatened again.
“That is the thing about the NCAA Tournament,” Chrabascz said, “There is going to be a game of runs. Winthrop is a very explosive team. So, maintaining it and controlling how limited the run is is important.”
Chrabascz said that particular run was “a little too much,” and he said Butler was at fault for it occurring as much as giving credit to Winthrop.
“It was a lack of defense and some effort plays on our end,” Chrabascz said, “and some execution on offense during that stretch.”
Chrabascz scored 12 points and dished out three assists, while Kelan Martin added 10 points and a team-best eight rebounds in the win.
Tyler Wideman pulled down seven rebounds, while Kamar Baldwin and Kethan Savage had six rebounds each for the Bulldogs.
Winthrop got 23 points from Xavier Cooks and 17 from Keon Johnson.