One of Indiana’s “smaller” Division I men’s basketball teams has started their 2006-2007 season 4-0, a record that includes wins over two of the state’s bigger schools.
After a season-opening 77-37 blowout of Tulane, the Butler Bulldogs defeated both Notre Dame (71-69) and Indiana University (60-55) during the preliminary rounds of this year’s pre-season National Invitational Tournament (NIT). These two wins moved the Bulldogs to the semi-finals of the tournament, where they will face Tennessee at Madison Square Garden Nov. 22.
The victories over the Fighting Irish and the Hoosiers both involved comebacks by Butler. The Bulldogs overcame a six-point deficit with 12 minutes left in the Notre Dame game, and outscored Indiana 19-2 in the final 10 minutes to recover from a 12-point deficit for the win the following night.
“I love working with guys with character and knowing the right way to play,” Butler coach Todd Lickliter said after the IU game. “It was very difficult tonight and hard to get an open look. We returned the favor and guarded well. And we are excited about [going to] New York.”
Junior guard A. J. Graves had consecutive 20-point scoring performances against Notre Dame and Indiana (28 and 20 points, respectively). Graves hit eight three-pointers in the win over Notre Dame, which were the most by a Butler player since Darnell Archey nailed eight threes in Butler’s NCAA Tournament upset of Louisville. The 28 points Graves scored against Notre Dame were one shy of his career-high, set against Ball State in his freshman season.
“It was just playing offense,” Graves said after the Notre Dame game. “I was just trying to get to an open spot. They are a good defensive team. It was a fight to get open.
“It is nice to come out of here and win and go to New York. I have never been to New York. I don’t care what I shoot as long as we get a ‘W.’”
Graves credited his teammates with coming out and playing well against their in-state rivals.
“The only way to score is to go inside and get other players involved. Willie [Veasley] played well tonight [against IU]. He gave good defense and offense, sparked the team and gave us momentum to keep going. And Mike [Green] is a great player. It helps to play with a player like him.”
Green added that’s he’s excited about being a member of the Bulldogs’ squad.
“I love it here. It is big time. I’ve wanted to play in Hinkle Fieldhouse and to be a part of the tradition.”
Butler’s winning streak continued with a hard-fought 62-56 victory over Illinois-Springfield at Hinkle Fieldhouse Nov. 18. The Bulldogs were led by junior Drew Streicher, who scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the game against the Prairie Stars.
Whether it is high profile teams like Notre Dame and Indiana, or lesser-known teams like Illinois-Springfield, coach Lickliter doesn’t take the opposition lightly.
“I have a lot of respect for Illinois-Springfield. I told people they were good,” Lickliter pointed out. “Anytime you line up against somebody and you have to fight and tough it out and you end up winning, that’s a good thing for your kids. That’s a good standard for Butler basketball.”
The Bulldogs’ next home game is Saturday night against Kent State. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Clowes Memorial Hall Box Office or Ticketmaster, 317-239-5151 or www.ticketmaster.com.