When the NCAA Tournament bubble watch heats up every March, signature wins are always a hot topic of conversation. And while Saint Josephs, already with a victory over now-No. 17 Notre Dame in its back pocket, has a lot of season left, a win Wednesday night over 14th-ranked Butler certainly would have added to its resume.
But after a hard-fought 40 minutes during which neither team led by more than eight points, the Hawks came up empty, except for a 72-66 loss to open conference play that snapped their three-game winning streak(see Instant Replay).
They executed their plays down the stretch and we didnt, St. Joes guard Langston Galloway said. We came up short on a lot of shots.
Powered by the talented duo of sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke and veteran big man Andrew Smith, Butler provided its fair share of challenges. Clarke, the Bulldogs leading scorer, has as quick as a release you will see, while Smith has all but mastered his jump hook.
That said, the Hawks (8-5, 0-1) stuck with the Atlantic 10s new member, even leading by five at halftime. But when push came to shove, the Bulldogs (13-2, 1-0), toughened by the experience of two Final Four appearances in the last three years, made the shots -- and the stops -- they needed to.
We werent good enough, St. Joes head coach Phil Martelli said. Individual players werent good enough. Coaching wasnt good enough. Scouting wasnt good enough. We just werent good enough.
Butler outscored Saint Josephs 20-10 over the final 8:48 of the game en route to its 10th consecutive win. Though the Hawks shot just 25.9 percent in the second half, they were able to pull within two, 68-66, after a pair of Halil Kanacevic free throws with just less than three minutes left.
But they couldnt break through. After Smith knocked down two foul shots to increase Butlers lead to four, the Hawks missed their final six shots. Their best opportunity to narrow the deficit came in a sequence that started with 31 seconds on the clock, during which Langston Galloway, a 36.7 three-point shooter on the season, missed consecutive attempts from beyond the arc.
I would love to have those back, Galloway said. And I was wide open. Came up short.
Saint Josephs shot 10 of 25 from long range, but what Martelli made sure to note after the game was that his team shot only 11 for 34 on two-point field goal attempts. And though the Hawks committed eight turnovers, their opponent was even better, recording only five.
"I'm most excited about the fact that we stayed the course with what we said we were going to do and nobody panicked when things didn't necessarily go our way, Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
Chris Wilson made sure to treat the sold-out Hagan Arena to an enthusing start, his three-point shooting fueling an early Hawks lead. Wilson, who entered the day with just seven threes on 30 attempts for the season, hit four shots from beyond the arc in the first 4:49 of the game and finished the half with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, all from long range.
Offensively, he gave way to his teammates in the second half, attempting only one shot in nine minutes. C.J. Aiken scored 13 points, brought down seven rebounds and blocked three shots, while Ronald Roberts recorded 12 points, nine rebounds and four swats.
But as far as individual performances go, Clarke and Smith highlighted the night. Scoring a game-high 28 points, Clarke continuously rolled off screens and knocked down three-pointers to stymy potential St. Joes runs. Smith added 24 points and 10 rebounds, including six offensive boards.
(Clarke) keeps his feet moving on offense. Hes always hunting his shot, Wilson said. Hes extremely hard to guard. You cant even relax for a second. Hes a tough player.
With just less than eight minutes left in the game, just after Clarke hit a three to give Butler a 57-56 lead, the raucous St. Joes student section began booing Butlers top scorer each time he touched the ball.
That's what you work for, being able to go on the road and play in tough venues with hostile crowds and being able to hit shots that quiet crowds, Clarke said. I think that's one of the fun things about playing on the road."
Wilson said the Hawks understand Wednesday night's contest had the chance to be a "statement game," but added so are all the other games they will play in a tough Atlantic 10.
We have 16 chances right here to come out every night and prove what we are and take steps forward," he said. "But tonight we let some opportunities slip in the second half.
E-mail Jake Kaplan at email@example.com