EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -On a good night, it's going to be tough to beat No. 11 Butler.
When a team is as short-handed as Northwestern is, it's almost not a fair fight.
Shelvin Mack's 15 points led four Bulldogs in double figures, Gordon Hayward had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Butler overpowered Northwestern 67-54 on Wednesday night. It was the Wildcats' first game since announcing Monday that Kevin Coble, the team's leading scorer and rebounder the last three years, and Jeff Ryan will miss the rest of the season with injuries.
``I feel for their situation,' Butler coach Brad Stevens said. ``They're going to get it figured out. They're going to be a really good team. But three days after, it's tough. It's going to take a little time.'
Michael Thompson led the Wildcats (1-1) with 16, but after making three 3-pointers in the first 8 1/2 minutes he was held scoreless until only 3 1/2 minutes remained. John Shurna added 14 for the Wildcats.
It was the second victory over Northwestern in two years for the Bulldogs (2-0), but their first in Evanston since 1947-48. Butler has won six of its last seven games against Big Ten teams.
``Butler's been good since I was in high school,' Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. ``They've traditionally been a very good team, and they're probably just getting their due in the last six, eight years.'
Butler had to rally from double figures last year to beat Northwestern at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but there was no such scare this time around. The Bulldogs never trailed, and led by as many as 21 points in the second half. Five players scored nine points or better, and the Bulldogs had 17 assists to 10 turnovers.
Anytime Northwestern threatened to make a run, Butler came up with a big bucket - usually from outside. The Bulldogs made four straight 3s - one each by Mack and Hayward, two by Avery Jukes - for a 50-30 lead with 11:42 to play.
``We've been playing together since the end of last season. We know how good we are, but we also know what each other is going to do,' said Jukes, who finished with 10 points. ``We have so many options.'
And Northwestern doesn't have many.
The Wildcats had high hopes for this season, returning most of the team that went to the NIT last year. But Coble broke a bone in his foot at practice Nov. 10. Three days later, Ryan, a senior and valuable sub, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Northwestern's season opener.
``It's kind of a heartbreaker for them,' Hayward said. ``But I'm sure they'd tell you they've got to move on without them.'
Despite returning everyone from the team that made a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament last season, Butler had to overcome some uncharacteristic jitters in its season opener against Davidson. The Bulldogs were far more composed against Northwestern, though it took them a bit to get into a rhythm.
Hayward's layup to break a 15-all tie midway through the first half sparked a 12-4 run, and the Wildcats never really threatened again. The Bulldogs put the game away with a flurry of 3-pointers in the second half, getting a surprising spark from Willie Veasley.
With 16:51 left, Shawn Vanzant got poked in the eye by Jeremy Nash. Vanzant backed away from the foul line several times, blinking, and had the eye looked at by Butler's trainer, but couldn't see clearly enough to take the shots. Veasley replaced him and, after making one of two, stole the ball at the other end to set up Matt Howard's tip-in.
Just like that, Butler was up 36-26. Mack made a fallaway jumper and then came back with a 3, the first of four straight that all but sealed yet another win over yet another big-conference team.
``I don't know that it's against the Big Ten or anyone else. Our guys like to play, they like to play together,' Stevens said. ``Whoever they're playing against, they're not worried about their conference affiliation.'
The Associated Press News Service
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