For a late-December game on the opening night of Big East play, Butler’s 91-89 double-overtime win at Georgetown may turn out to be unusually important.
The Bulldogs are now in far less danger of digging themselves a huge hole from which it could be difficult to escape.
Butler’s upcoming four-game stretch is by far its most challenging of the season, a gauntlet that includes nothing but matchups against Top 25 foes. The Bulldogs host top-ranked Villanova on Saturday and visit No. 6 Xavier on Tuesday. Then they host No. 23 Seton Hall on Jan. 6 before visiting No. 25 Creighton on Jan. 9.
A win over a rebuilding Georgetown team gives Butler a strong chance to emerge from that gauntlet with a respectable Big East record. A loss would have put the Bulldogs in severe jeopardy of a confidence-sapping 1-4 or 0-5 start, one that would have left little margin for error for a team with NCAA tournament aspirations.
What added to the significance of Butler’s victory was the way the Bulldogs achieved it. They rallied from 20 down late in the first half and from 12 down with less than eight minutes to play in regulation, forcing overtime on a Sean McDermott tip-in at the buzzer after Kamar Baldwin’s potential game-winning 3-pointer bounced high off the rim.
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Butler would neither have forced overtime nor have won the game were it not for the heroics of Baldwin and Kelan Martin. They scored 31 and 27 points respectively, jump-starting an ice-cold Bulldogs offense that missed 10 of 11 first-half threes yet also struggled to generate anything easy at the rim.
It was Martin who sank the game’s biggest basket, a go-ahead floater off the glass that gave Butler the lead with 2.6 seconds left in double overtime. Martin also tied the game the previous possession on a short jumper.
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That Georgetown couldn’t hold its massive first-half lead was a disappointment for a Hoyas team still learning how to win tight games. Georgetown also blew a double-digit lead against rival Syracuse in its only other matchup against a top 200 opponent this season.
The two losses exemplify the flaws in Patrick Ewing’s bizarre scheduling strategy. Maybe Georgetown would have been more comfortable down the stretch against quality opponents if the Hoyas hadn’t played the nation’s 351st strongest non-conference schedule, one riddled with games against the likes of Maryland Eastern Shore, Maine, Coppin State, Alabama A&M and North Carolina A&T.
The best team Georgetown has beaten this season is six-loss North Texas. The second-best Hoyas win came against a Richmond team that’s 2-10.
Georgetown had a chance to show that it’s schedule-aided 10-1 start wasn’t a total fluke, but the Hoyas blew it in a hail of turnovers, missed box-outs and questionable decisions. Too many times Georgetown allowed Martin to attack slower, less mobile Marcus Derrickson off the dribble. Too many times the Hoyas couldn’t find a way to get the ball to Derrickson or Jessie Govan in key moments, relying instead on its unproven backcourt to create.
Credit Butler for taking advantage and escaping with a massive win.
It’s too early to anoint Butler as NCAA tournament-caliber, but the Bulldogs (11-3) at least made their path a little easier with a well-timed road victory.
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