MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) -Butler coach Brad Stevens asked his road-weary team to do one thing Wednesday night, defend.
His players responded by locking down Ball State.
The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs reverted to their more customary form, opening the game with a flurry of five 3-pointers and then relying on a stout defense for a 59-38 rout, their largest victory margin of the season.
``I thought our guys did a good job focusing,' Stevens said. ``It's not easy. We got off the plane Sunday. We practiced last night, we came up here late today and we played well.'
Over the season's first six games, Butler looked like a different team. Instead of knocking out opponents with 3s and taking care of the ball, the Bulldogs shot poorly, threw the ball away and struggled on defense.
On Wednesday, Butler was playing its way.
Gordon Hayward, last season's Horizon League newcomer of the year, scored 15 points and had eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Shelvin Mack also had 15 points, including four 3-pointers in the first 6 minutes of the game. Matt Howard, the reigning Horizon League player of the year, stayed out of foul trouble and finished with 11 points, all but one in the second half.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were even better.
They forced Ball State to repeatedly take the shot clock into single digits and limited the Cardinals to just 19 percent shooting from the field in the half and 31.7 percent for the game. Butler forced 18 turnovers, allowed just 11 first-half points and didn't let the Cardinals get closer than 10 over the final 27 minutes.
It was the perfect prescription for Butler's ills, which included two narrow escapes and two losses in their last four games. And now they'll go home for the first time since Nov. 14, and play three of their next four at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
``I think that (loss to Clemson) woke us up. We were just trying to get back to the basics,' Mack said. ``We came out a little more determined today. We had something to prove.'
Butler has won 14 consecutive games against Indiana schools, including six straight on the road.
Ball State (2-3), meanwhile, lost its third in a row overall and sixth straight in a series that has been played every season since 1950.
Malik Perry led the Cardinals with 11 points and six rebounds, and Jarrod Jones added nine points, but Ball State never had a chance.
Mack made Butler's first four baskets - all 3s - and Hayward followed with another 3 to give Butler a 16-4 lead with 13:43 to go in the first half.
The opening run forced Ball State to call two timeouts before the first media timeout, and the Cardinals never recovered.
``Butler came out and hit us hard early, and I think our team got down, got deflated and didn't do a good job rebounding from that run,' coach Billy Taylor said. ``It's a long game and you have to be able to fight back from that.'
Ball State's response: Two baskets in the first 11 minutes and only two more in the final 9 minutes of the half, as Butler built a 29-11 halftime lead.
It was more of the same in the second half.
With about 15 minutes to go, Ball State had nearly as many turnovers (14) as it did points (15).
And though the Bulldogs shot 39.5 percent from the field, they did hit nine 3s and demonstrated a renewed desire to play Butler basketball the way Stevens expects.
``I think our guys really embraced the challenge of seeing how good we could be (defensively) each half,' Stevens said. ``I think we really had a presence in both halves tonight. Our goal was just guarding guard as well as we could. That's what we want to be.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved