NCAA in Rupp: Butler shakes off Bucknell to win opener

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2013 

Same old Butler.

"They have some mettle," Coach Brad Stevens said after his Bulldogs turned back Bucknell 68-56 in Thursday's NCAA East Regional game in Rupp Arena. "And they have some intestinal fortitude that is built up over time."

This after Butler, a national finalist in 2010 and 2011, withstood a 19-2 Bucknell run that might have knocked out a lesser poised team.

Butler also won with hard-nosed defense and a 14-2 counterpunch of its own.

The Bulldogs held Bucknell's 6-foot-11 Mike Muscala to nine points, 10 below average, on 4-for-17 shooting.

Butler sealed things at the free-throw line. Although late-game fouls skewed the advantage, Butler finished 25-for-28 at the line. Bucknell went 5-for-8, getting no chances in the first half.

"It may not have been aesthetic the entire game, missing our first 13 threes, but our defense was really good in the first half," Stevens said. "It was just OK for a 10-minute stretch in the second half."

Rotnei Clarke, a 6-0 senior, led sixth-seeded Butler (27-8) and scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half.

Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Smith scored 14 each, with the latter snaring a career-high 16 rebounds. Alex Barlow added 10 points.

Butler started 6-6 Khyle Marshall, who scored seven points, on Muscala. Smith, 6-11, eventually took over.

"I can't really take a whole lot of credit for it," Smith said. "Khyle started on him and it was just a whole team effort. Whenever he got the ball, all five guys were watching him and making sure they were helping me."

Joe Willman, a 6-7 senior with a 10.3 scoring average, netted a career-high 20 to lead Bucknell. Muscala grabbed 10 rebounds for the 11th seeded Bison, who finished with a school and Patriot League best-ever 28-6.

"This one stings," Coach Dave Paulsen said. "We've got to give a lot of credit to Butler. We made our run in the second half and they came up with the big plays down the stretch. I thought we defended well. Obviously, that's about as poorly as we've shot the ball."

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Butler led 21-14 at halftime. Bucknell's season-low total for a half came on 26 percent shooting (7-27), 0-2 on three-pointers, while Butler matched its season-low points total on 32 percent shooting (9-28), going 0-for-9 from three-point range.

An 8-4 start to open the second half gave Butler the first double-digit lead of the game, 29-18.

Bucknell then exploded for a 19-2 run, taking a 37-31 lead when Willman hit a jumper from the corner with 10:17 left.

"Coach did a great job of scouting," Willman said of his ability to get open looks. "Before the game, we knew what kind of ball-screen defense they were going to be playing. They doubled the ball screens. With that much attention on the ball and then Mike posting up inside, he gets a lot of attention, too. And the guards did a good job of just throwing the ball back, and I had a bunch of basically wide-open shots. I just had to put them in."

Willman scored eight of the 19, Cameron Ayers had six and Muscala added five.

"They're a great team. Coach even told us at halftime they're going to make a run," Smith said. "We were prepared for something like that, and fortunately we were able to fight back."

Butler scored the next eight points, getting a pair of free throws by Kellen Dunham and back-to-back three-pointers by Smith and Clarke.

A three-point play by Ryan Frazier gave Bucknell a 40-39 lead with 8:02 left.

Then, Butler threw its knockout punch — five different players scoring during a 14-2 spurt that blew the lead to 53-42 with 2:38 left.

Then, after Bucknell's Bryson Johnson sank three free throws, Clarke hit a long, fall-away three-pointer to beat the shot clock and make it 56-45 with 1:41 left.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog:

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