Scorching first half lifts Butler over Arkansas at LCA

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Butler went out to a blazing start shooting 73 percent from the field, and while the Bulldogs couldn’t sustain that pace throughout their first-round NCAA Tournament game, they have moved on.
The Bulldogs built a 21-2 lead over Arkansas early, and bit back when the Razorbacks closed the gap late in the first half and about midway through the second half, to advance with a 79-62 win Friday at Little Caesars Arena. The first session of games drew 20,163.

BOX SCORE: Butler 79, Arkansas 62

“We knew today was going to be a fight, obviously, with their ability to press and extend the floor and apply pressure. We knew we had to handle that,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “I thought our guys responded. I was really proud of our effort on the glass because they're a heck of a rebounding team as well with their length and athleticism.”

Butler (21-13) is a No. 10 seed and will face No. 2 Purdue on Sunday. The Boilermakers, which defeated Cal State Fullerton, will be without senior center Isaac Haas, who suffered a fractured right elbow in the first-round game. Butler lost a regular-season meeting to then-No. 17 Purdue, 82-67, on Dec. 12, 2017, and Haas had 15 points.

“You hate that for anybody, but especially a senior and his last run, for that to take him out when they had a really good team, a really good chance to make a deep run,” Jordan said. “Our mentality doesn't change. It's not like they're going to play four guys. They have other players that are really good. We've got to be prepared for them. Offensively, it changes things for them because Haas is such a factor on the offensive end of the court.

Tip-off times have not yet been released for the Sunday games in Detroit.

Butler was led by sophomore Kamar Baldwin, who had 24 points and had nine rebounds. Senior Kelan Martin, a 6-7 senior forward who led the Big East in scoring during the conference campaign and was the first league scoring champ from Butler in 31 years, had 27 points. Sean McDermott added 11

The Bulldogs shot 49 percent from the field and outrebounded Arkansas 45-25.

“I thought they were the more physical team,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “And it showed in rebounding the basketball. And, of course, they made shots and we didn't shoot the ball particularly well. And that first game is always — you never know how the psyche, how they're going to come out. True enough I thought we came out on our heels.

“It was such an uphill battle once we got behind. We got behind by 19, I think. But with our team, it's a game of runs. We just kind of stayed true to who we were. Had some outstanding performance, guys coming off the bench. And I thought that was really kind of spur us on. But it didn't. Give them credit. I thought they played well.”

Jaylen Barford led Arkansas with 15 points and Daryl Macon added 12. The Razorbacks, ranked 15th nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage (40.1) entering the game was 4-of-18 (22.2 percent).

Limiting the Razorbacks’ 3-pointers was a top priority for Butler.

“We talked about it in pregame,” Martin said. “Just run them off the (3-point) line and make them make tough twos, and I think we did a great job of that. And they missed some open shots as well. They were good looks, but just give credit to our defense. We were just locked in on the scouting report and the game plan.”

The Arkansas players said their lack of success from the 3-point line had less to do with Butler and more to do with themselves.

“I think it just comes and goes,” Macon said. “Today was one of those days where it just wasn't falling. And we just didn't adjust to it. It's nothing they were doing. It was a great team tonight. They made shots, made tough shots, and we didn't execute on either end of the floor. So these were the results of it.”

The Bulldogs held a 36-31 lead at halftime and were led by Martin’s 10 points. Butler outrebounded Arkansas, 25-15

It was all Butler in the first half as the Bulldogs built a 21-2 lead while shooting a blistering 73 percent from the field. The Razorbacks during the same stretch were shooting 10 percent.

But in the final six minutes, Arkansas reeled in Butler. The Razorbacks went on a 16-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer, to take its only lead, 29-27. The Bulldogs missed eight field goals during that stretch. 

Arkansas went cold in the final 3:48 and didn’t make a field goal, while Butler regained the lead.

Twitter: @chengelis