YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) -Gordon Hayward and the No. 18 Butler Bulldogs trusted their game plan, and it got them their 14th win in a row.
Hayward scored 22 points and had a career-high 17 rebounds to help Butler overcome an early eight-point deficit and defeat Youngstown State 68-57 on Thursday night. The Bulldogs (22-4, 15-0) clinched their fourth straight Horizon League title as Hayward collected his eighth double-double of the season.
``Winning the league is something to be proud of,' Hayward said, ``but now we want to win the league tournament and keep going.
``We really weren't worried at halftime because we knew we were well prepared. Youngstown State played very well in the first half, but we had a good game plan and didn't follow it as well as we should have at the start.'
Butler coach Brad Stevens said closing the first half on an 11-2 run to lead at the break 31-30 was important.
``That was huge,' said Stevens, now 78-14 including 46-5 in league play in three seasons at the school.
``We would have liked to start off better, actually we didn't start that badly, but Youngstown State really played well. They are hard to guard and did a good job on defense against us.'
DeAndre Mays' 18 points led Youngstown State (8-16, 2-12), which has lost four in a row and eight of nine. Vytas Sulskis added 14 points for the Penguins. Matt Howard had 11 points and Willie Veasley 10 for the Bulldogs.
Youngstown State made four consecutive 3-pointers during a 23-4 run midway through the first half to lead 28-20. Hayward's driving layup and free throw 4 seconds before halftime put the Bulldogs back in front by one point.
``Then we handled play down low better in the second half,' Hayward said. ``That helped turn it around.'
Butler shot 62 percent from the field in the second half and earned its seventh straight road win. Hayward finished 6 for 10 from the field and made eight of nine free throws.
The Bulldogs' winning streak is one behind Siena for the longest in the nation. The teams will meet Feb. 20.
``We haven't even mentioned Siena,' Hayward said. ``Our focus is on our next game, Cleveland State. They knocked us out of the league tournament a year ago.'
The Bulldogs' start in conference play is the best by any Horizon team since Wisconsin-Green Bay began 16-0 in 1995-96. They can match that with a win Saturday at second-place Cleveland State (13-12, 9-4).
Veasley hit a 3-pointer, blocked a shot, and Shelvin Mack hit another 3 for a 6-0 lead in the opening 54 seconds. The Bulldogs had hit a season-high 12 from beyond the arc in a 91-61 victory over Youngstown State on Jan. 16.
The Penguins got back into it with swarming defense and sharp long-range shooting of their own. Sulskis hit three 3-pointers as YSU battled back from a 16-5 deficit.
The Associated Press News Service
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