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TOM DAVIS: Butler does the unexpected and fails to defend in NCAA loss

Purdue guard P.J. Thompson, left, controls the ball as Butler guard Aaron Thompson (2) defends during the first half of a second round game in the NCAA Tournament Sunday in Detroit. (By The Associated Press)
Purdue guard Carsen Edwards (3) drives between Butler guard Henry Baddley (20) and Nate Fowler (51) during the first half of an NCAA Tournament second-round game in Detroit Sunday. (By The Associated Press)
Butler players watch from the bench during an NCAA Tournament second-round game against Purdue in Detroit Sunday. (By The Associated Press)
Butler forward Tyler Wideman (4) fouls Purdue forward Matt Haarms (32) during the first half of an NCAA Tournament second-round game in Detroit Sunday. (By The Associated Press)
Purdue forward Vincent Edwards, top, pulls down a rebound next to Butler guard Sean McDermott during the second half of a second round NCAA Tournament game Sunday in Detroit. (By The Associated Press)

DETROIT – Going into its second round NCAA Tournament game with Purdue, the Butler coaching staff was fully aware of the dangers that Boilermaker veterans Dakota Mathias, Vince and Carsen Edwards presented.

The trio was named to the various All-Big Ten postseason squads for a reason.

However, the play of those guys, as impressive as it was, and it definitely was, isn’t the reason that Butler is finished playing this year. It was the fact that the Bulldogs allowed a bunch of other Purdue players to make plays, which ultimately cost them in a game in which Purdue didn’t even have its only post presence, as senior center Isaac Haas was out with a fractured right elbow.

Butler fell to Purdue 76-73 Sunday at Little Caesars Arena, as Mathias buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds to lift his team to the win. But that final shot was the micro reason for the defeat, not the macro one.

The Boilermakers (30-6) advance to play Texas Tech in Boston Friday, while Butler (21-14) can only wonder “What if?”

“It’s like the rest of the games this weekend,” first-year Butler coach LaVall Jordan said following the loss, “heck of a game. Obviously we have a ton of respect for Purdue and Coach (Matt) Painter and their program. That’s what you would expect when Butler’s playing Purdue to go to the Sweet 16.”

Yes and no.

Purdue placed four players in double figures, so the fact that Mathias (11 points), Vince Edwards (20) and Carsen Edwards (13) did so WAS expected.

However, what wasn’t anticipated was the fact that Butler couldn’t guard several other Purdue players well enough to secure the win.

Boilermaker senior guard PJ Thompson scored in double figures for just the second time in the past 10 games Sunday, as he continually torched the Bulldogs in a variety of ways.

He finished with 14 points on floaters in the lane, drives, jumpers, and a couple of 3-pointers, as he sank 6 of 9 shots.

Thompson hadn’t hit that many shots in a game this entire season and at 5-foot-10 that can’t happen if you want to beat Purdue.

“They’ve got seniors that stepped up in a big way,” Jordan said, “with Vince and Dakota, and a senior (Haas) out. So they’re fighting for him. We’ve got a couple of seniors that are fighting.

“Plays are being made the entire game. It’s intense. So you expect it, guys to step up and do those things.”

In 12 games this season, Thompson scored three or fewer points, so sorry, I didn’t “expect” Thompson to be scoring on tight cuts down the lane and finishing at the rim.

I also didn’t “expect” Purdue junior center Jacquil Taylor to make his 13th shot of the entire year on a second half post move.

And I certainly didn’t “expect” the pedestrian Ryan Cline to be taking Butler defenders off the dribble and finishing at the rack, all of which happened in the second half, as the Bulldogs either couldn’t – or wouldn’t – defend.

“I thought we attacked the paint well,” Jordan said. “I thought we finished. You look up, we shoot almost 50 percent. We just couldn’t make them miss enough in the second half.”

Exactly.

This game wasn’t lost at the offensive end for Butler, the blame lies solely on its defensive ineptitude.

The Bulldogs hit 13 of 14 free throws, didn’t turn the ball over (just eight throwaways) and shot 49.1 percent overall.

But you can’t allow Purdue – with or without Haas – to shoot 58.3 percent in the second half and hit 11 of 24 3-pointers. Not if you want your season to continue, anyway.

Butler led 24-15 with 7:42 remaining in the opening half, but then slumbered at both ends of the floor.

Over the ensuing 17:23, the Boilermakers outscored the Bulldogs 46-27 and they did that with Vince Edwards in foul trouble and Painter having to play the offensively-challenged Matt Haarms (he made one more shot than Painter did) for 29 minutes.

This game was the Bulldogs to win, if only they could have defended. Somewhat.

THAT was an aspect of play that no Butler fan ever “expected” to be an issue.

“Nobody wants those moments to end,” Jordan said. “Nobody wants their journey to be over. So you fight and I thought we fought. And they fought.

“Somebody has to advance and somebody goes home, and they had the last shot to go up.”

Kelan Martin led Butler in his final game with 29 points, while Kamar Baldwin hit just 5 of 16 shots and had 14 points.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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