Butler unscathed by Loyola

By Etheria Modacure

The crowd at Loyola University’s Gentile Center, 1032 W. Sheridan Road, was filled with energy and rowdy fans. The student spectators held newspaper clippings displaying “Beat Butler,” cheering loudly while waiting for the starting introductions to be announced.

Butler University played its first Horizon League game since winning the conference last season, finishing with an 18-0 record against conference foes. Loyola University was looking to improve to 8-0 after reeling off seven consecutive victories matching its best start since the 1962–1963 season when it won the NCAA championship.

For the Butler Bulldogs, this was a game to continue their unprecedented streak of 20 consecutive wins in the Horizon League and its ascent as one of the premier basketball teams in the country. The Ramblers were trying to beat an opponent with a winning record and win the league opener to sustain momentum early in

the season.

The Ramblers couldn’t do this because they were outshot, out-rebounded and outsmarted by a team that went to the National Championship game in its hometown last season. The Bulldogs proved their position in the Horizon League with their 21st consecutive conference win on Dec. 1, 65-63 against Loyola.

“That [was] a heck of a win, heck of a way to start off [conference play],” Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens said. “I’m proud of our players.”

With the Ramblers coming into the game leading the Horizon League in four statistical categories including a 15.4 scoring margin against their opponents, they didn’t lay down just because the Bulldogs were in their home arena.

Butler didn’t come into the game with its usual winning swagger with a record of 3-2 after suffering a deflating loss at home to Evansville University in overtime on Nov. 27, 71-68.

The Bulldogs aren’t a relatively young team. They did lose their top scorer Gordon Hayward to the NBA draft this past summer but have remained competitive with the team’s leading scorer and top rebounder for this season, Matt Howard, who had 15 points and seven rebounds in the contest.

“The one thing I admire about Butler is they come in after a tough loss and they’re [still poised],” said Loyola Head Coach Jim Whitesell.

The Bulldogs have now tied a Horizon League record with their 21 consecutive conference victories with the University of Green Bay, which did this from 1994–1997. Butler doesn’t play another conference game until Jan. 1 against Valparaiso University.

It has unyielding non-conference games against Xavier University, Stanford University and the University of Utah after playing Duke University in a rematch of the national championship game on Dec. 4 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Having a stranglehold on a conference with a prolonged winning streak doesn’t have the Bulldogs head coach taking any game or opponent lightly.

“I really don’t look at it as 21 [consecutive victories], I look at it as [just] one,” Stevens said. “Khyle [Marshall] knows how tough this league is and that’s a good thing. Sometimes when you’re away and outside, you don’t understand it until you’re in the middle of it.”

Marshall is a freshman forward for the Bulldogs and watched them go to the National Championship game. He is aware the team has a target on its back, though it didn’t win the ultimate prize in

college basketball.

“It is big coming into every gym, especially in conference games,” Marshall said. “You know everybody’s going to give you their best shot and we’re going to come in with targets on our back.”

Butler was able to clamp down on the Ramblers, a team that has surprised most with its good start, by not allowing the team to take the lead or tie throughout the game. Whitesell noted for any team that plays the Bulldogs, it usually has to score in little spurts of five to six points to hang around but eventually they will close the game with a victory.

When asked how the Bulldogs are able to remain poised in tough situations, Howard said the mentality of thinking you’re never going to have an easy victory is beneficial to the team. He said he doesn’t think this trait is something that comes easy.

“I don’t think you come into a conference game and think you’re going to blow somebody out, especially Loyola,” Howard said. “They’re a great team and they play really hard. You’ve got to be on top of your game to beat them.”

While the loss to Butler dropped Whitesell to 2-5 in Horizon League openers, the coach referred to the team’s ability to be resilient after a loss and continue to keep its momentum into conference play. The Ramblers will get another sturdy test when they play Kansas State University from the Big 12 at home on Dec. 11.

“Don’t give up on these guys yet,” Whitesell said. “It’s just one loss and everybody [in the conference] is going to lose this year. I don’t think there will be any

undefeated teams.”