Hinkle Fieldhouse is back! One of the proudest, most invested fan bases in college basketball has struggled to find much to get excited about since Chris Holtman left the Butler sideline after the ’16-’17 season. The Bulldogs have had two winning seasons since Holtman’s unpopular escape to Columbus, ironically, to replace Thad Matta seven years ago. But this group of Dawgs is different. On Thursday night, this collection of 11 new players from all over the country returned the magic to Hinkle!
First year Texas Tech head coach Grant McCasland brought a good, 5-1, Red Raider squad into Hinkle on Thursday night. Coach McClasland might be familiar to local basketball fans. He was the coach of #13 seeded North Texas when they beat #4 seed Purdue in Lucas Oil Stadium in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. His new school was coming off a 16-point win over Michigan last Friday in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Big 12-member school’s lone loss came at the hands of AP #18 Villanova in their first game in the Bahamas.
You could feel an excitement in the building before tip. NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball, Dan Gavitt, was in the building. Former Butler Coach Lavall Jordan was back scouting for the NBA. Senior Associate Commissioner of the Big East Dan Leibovitz was seated in the Media Section alongside legendary, longtime college hoops official Ted Hillary.
Tech represented Butler’s first real test at home this season. And early on it looked like the visiting team might make it a long night for the Hinkle faithful. Red Raider big man Devan Cambridge opened the game with a layup on his team’s first possession. Next possession Texas Tech 7- footer, Warren Washington, got a big dunk! Third possession of the game Cambridge got another layup then an emphatic, two handed dunk off an alley- oop to Washington. McCasland’s group scored easy buckets on 4 of their first 5 possessions. Pierre Brooks hit a three pointer at the 16:30 mark to bring the Bulldogs within one at 8-7 but it felt like Butler was just barely hanging on. After Brooks’ jump shot the Dawgs settled in. Shooting guard DJ Davis would get a pass from Posh Alexander and hit a jumper, his first points of the game, with 14:19 to go in the half. The play put Butler up two points at 13-11. It would be a long time before Texas Tech would play from the front. With a few minutes to go in the first stanza 8 Butler players had scored between 2 & 8 points. The balance contributed to a 40 – 35 lead with 3:50 to play in the half. The home team would push that lead out slightly and head into the locker room with a 45-38 advantage in a half that saw them shoot 54.8% from the field.
The Dawgs came out of the halftime locker room strong. They quickly pushed their lead to ten points less than 2 minutes into the second period. The team in blue was clicking and it looked like they might run away with this one. But the three-point shot is the great equalizer in college basketball. And the Red Raiders have one of the best shooters in the country in Junior guard Chance McMillian. Mr. McMillian was on his game. He brought Texas Tech to within 5 points on his 5th three of the game at the 16:27 mark. Butler would push the lead back to ten points before Tech’s outside shooting, 13-26 for the game, brought them to within 2 points with just under 10 minutes to play in the game.
McMillian’s 7th triple of the contest gave the Red Raiders their first lead, 68-67, since it was 11-9 early in the first half! The last six minutes of the game was like a prize fight with Texas Tech and Butler both exchanging critical blows. The Butler crowd was raucous! The energy made it hard to stay in your seat, reminiscent of the glory days of Brad Stevens and Chris Holtman. As Joe Toussaint brought the ball up the court with just over 3 minutes to play and Butler down three points a wave of Hinkle faithful rose in unison to spur their team on in defending their basket. Texas Tech would get free throws on a tough call on Andre Screen going after a missed Toussaint layup! But that energy would embolden and propel the Dawgs. DJ Davis and Jahmyl Telfort would hit huge threes down the stretch to send the game into overtime.
OT was all Butler! The Bulldogs got big contributions from Davis, Brooks, Screen, Alexander, and Telfort to outscore the Red Raiders 20-12 in the extra period.
Guard DJ Davis was fouled with twenty- three seconds left as he walked to the line Davis motioned to the Hinkle Crowd to get loud as he was joined at midcourt by his teammates. It was a moment! As the Butler faithful gave the team assembled in front of them a standing ovation it felt like this collection of individuals from far-away places had formally been grafted into the Butler family. This was Butler’s team.
In the post- game presser Posh Alexander said, “Put this in all caps. This is a big shoutout to the crowd we had. Amazing fans tonight! We really, really, and truly appreciate them. Put that in all caps for me!”.
Alexander recorded a triple double with 10 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Jahmyl Telfort led the Dawgs with 26 points. DJ Davis wasn’t far behind with 25 big ones.
Coach Matta said, “ I’ve been saying this from Michigan State to Florida Atlantic, we’ve played better. That’s what you hope, even though we are 11 new faces, we do have some veteran players. We are not a finished product by any stretch. We have to keep building this thing. Those situations that we were in in Florida were good for us.”
Butler is back at Hinkle on Tuesday, Dec. 4, against Buffalo. Game tips at 6:30 PM on FS1.