INDIANAPOLIS — Amped up by a highlight video of current and former players such as Matt Howard making hustle plays, Butler’s typically subpar defense looked excellent Wednesday in the team’s 67-53 win, holding DePaul to 0.84 points per possession at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Bulldogs, whose defensive efficiency ranked No. 136 on KenPom entering Wednesday’s matchup and improved to No. 123, limited the Blue Demons’ quality looks at the basket. DePaul shot 38.9 percent from the field and made only five 3-pointers. After a hot start beyond the arc, the Blue Demons 2-of-13 from deep over the final 29 minutes.
“Coming into the game, part of my concern was playing against a really good team that is terrific at execution, particularly in important moments in games,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “I thought [Butler coach] Chris [Holtmann] did a great job of preparing the guys and understanding what we’re trying to do and taking some things away.”
DePaul’s defense also displayed an atypically vigorous performance, holding Butler’s top-20 offense to 1.08 points per possession.
While DePaul was aided by several open shots missed by skilled shooters Kelan Martin and Jordan Gathers, the Blue Demons generally did a good job on Butler players not named Roosevelt Jones. Jones, however, dominated and racked up a game-high 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting along with four assists.
“The bottom line is Roosevelt Jones on both ends of the court today,” Leitao said. “It sometimes looked like he and nine other guys on the court. He’s a really tough guy to stop.”
Leitao’s game plan on Jones was to “build a wall around him” and force him to finish tough shots.
“When he misses, he misses because there’s a big-time crowd around him with high hands and chests out,” Leitao said. “He does finish, but if you’re gonna try to pick your poison, that’s the poison you go with. He made some shots when we did build a wall. He missed some shots when he built a wall. But for the most part he played 1-on-1, and when he does that there’s not anyone in this league physical enough to stop him from where he wants to go.”
In one-on-one situations, Jones welcomed contact and got to the foul line 11 times. He successfully converted nine of those.
Jones spearheaded an effort to get to the free throw stripe, and the rest of his team followed. The Bulldogs entered the bonus with 14:38 remaining in the first half, which Leitao said was a result of DePaul not being ready for Butler’s aggression.
Butler finished 25-of-29 (86.2 percent) on foul shots to DePaul’s 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) shooting.
“I know these few games we’ve been coming out slow to start both halves,” Jones said. “I made a conscious effort to try to go to the rack hard and get to the free throw line.”
Even with Jones’ outburst, the Bulldogs shot a 46.7 effective field-goal percentage, well below their season average of 52.9 percent.
“I think we did miss some open opportunities,” Holtmann said.
While those missed opportunities aided DePaul, Butler received a blessing when Myke Henry, the Blue Demons’ leading scorer, received his second personal foul less than six minutes into the game. The senior forward, who entered averaging 14.4 points per game, did not see the floor again until after halftime, when DePaul trailed 33-23.
Leitao said he would have considered reinserting Henry to the lineup if the lead had grown to 15 or more points.
Henry scored 12 points after halftime to help DePaul stay within striking distance deep into the period. However, while Henry shot 5-of-10 from the field in the final 20 minutes, the rest of the Blue Demons shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent).
“I had an idea just knowing Myke that he’d come back in the second half and be really aggressive,” Leitao said. “As long as the game was in a manageable distance, if we made the proper adjustments, which I don’t think we did a good job of, then we’d get some good flow to our offense, which didn’t really happen.”