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Recorder Rewind: Butler’s team chemistry, stingy defense keeps Dawgs undefeated against East Tennessee State

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6,511 fans faithfully congregated at Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch Season II, Episode three of Thad Matta rebuilds the Bulldogs Nov. 13. Southern Conference member school, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers, were the antagonists in this matchup. Buccaneer first-year head coach Brooks Savage brought his team up from Johnson City, Tennessee, to provide one final tune-up for Matta’s group before the Bulldogs’ schedule shifted into high gear at Michigan State on Friday, Nov. 17.

ETSU’s Savage has several connections to Indianapolis, specifically Lawrence Township. As an assistant coach at Wake Forest during the 21-22 season, he was partly responsible for the development of former Lawrence Central Bear standout Jake LaRavia, who was drafted with the 19th pick in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft. In addition, Coach Savage’s current East Tennessee State Men’s Basketball Program consists of two former Lawrence North big men, junior DJ Hughes and 6’10 freshman David Merriweather. Merriweather is redshirting this season, and Hughes did not make the trip to Indianapolis due to an injury.

Butler University forward Connor Turnbull throws down the jam against East Tennessee State University during their matchup at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana on November 13, 2023. (Photo/Walt Thomas)

Butler entered the contest 2-0, coming off a 91-56 victory over Southeast Missouri State Nov. 10. It was a game that saw five Bulldogs reach double figures in points. East Tennessee State, 1-1 on the season, entered Monday’s contest coming off a close 79-76 loss at Elon on Nov. 9.

Entering this scrap, Buccaneer guard Quimari Peterson was the focus for Butler’s defense, particularly lockdown guard Posh Alexander. A 2021 Gary Westside graduate, Peterson dropped 29 points on the road at Elon in ETSU’s last game.

Right out of the tip, it looked like Peterson’s hot hand made its way to Hinkle with the rest of the visiting team’s delegation. On the first possession of the contest, Peterson got the ball on the left wing, drove left, went behind the back and pulled up for a jumper. It hit nothing but the bottom of the net. The Buccaneers went up 2-0, eleven seconds into the game. This was the highlight of the trip for both Quimari Peterson and East Tennessee State.

Related: Butler shines in season opener, shellacs EMU 94-55

Butler University guard DJ Davis gets to the cup during their matchup against East Tennessee State University (ETSU) at Hinkle Fieldhouse, located in central Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 13, 2023. (Photo/Walt Thomas)

On Butler’s second possession, Bulldog big man Jalen Thomas received a post-feed from guard DJ Davis. He faced up and hit a short jumper erasing what would be ETSU’s last lead of the game. East Tennessee State PF Braden Ilic’s free throw brought the Bucs within 12-11 at the 11:49 mark of the first half. Pierre Brooks answered immediately with a three, sparking a 16-0 Butler run over the next five minutes that blew the game wide open. The Bulldogs went to the locker room up 45-20 in a half that saw the home team shoot 50% from the field and 46.7% from three.

It was more of the same in the second half. The Dawgs came out of the gate, outscoring the Bucs 9-4, causing Brooks Savage to call a timeout at the 17:32 mark. ETSU leading scorer Quimari Peterson, who started the game strong, would hit his second and final shot with 9:53 left regulation to cut Butler’s lead to 35 points. The significant lead allowed Coach Matta to get his bench plenty of minutes in the second half.

UC Irvine transfer DJ Davis led the home team with 13 points in a game that saw nine players log at least 13 minutes. The Dawgs, who have been very balanced all season, saw five players with double figures in the scoring column. The home team’s strong offense was complimented by a defense that, according to ESPN.com, is number one in the country in FG percentage defense, holding opponents to 30.6 % shooting from the field.  Butler ran away with this one, with a final score of 81-47.

Butler University head coach Thad Matta during their game against East Tennessee State University (ETSU) at Hinkle Fieldhouse on November 13, 2023. (Photo/Walt Thomas)

 After the game, Thad Matta was asked what he has learned about his team over the first three games that he believes will translate as the schedule gets tougher.

“The biggest thing I like right now is just our togetherness. We talked about it the other night; we’ve got eleven new guys in that locker room. The things that they are doing off the court, in the classroom, that they are doing together as a team. You can win games in the locker room, and you can lose games in the locker room. Right now, I like where we are,” Matta responded.

After three lopsided Butler victories, the Bulldog fan base will learn much more about this team as the season progresses.

Austin Taylor is the Executive Director of The City League and can be reached at austin@thecityleague.org.

For more sports coverage courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, click here. You can also check out the Indiana Minority Business Magazine by clicking here.

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