By Tom Hurley | @TomHurleyKernel
Butler advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday after surviving a second-half comeback from Bucknell at Rupp Arena.
Sixteen rebounds and 14 points from senior center Andrew Smith helped the 6-seed Bulldogs earn the 68-56 victory.
“This one stings,” said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen.”We gotta give a lot of credit to Butler. We made our run in the second half but they came up with the big plays down the stretch.”
Strong defense and low shooting percentage was the story of the first half as the two teams combined to go 18-of-55 from the field.
The Bulldogs managed to open up a seven-point gap late in the half to take a 21-14 lead into the break — largely thanks to the touch of sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones and the rebounding of Smith.
Smith was able to get the better of Bucknell’s senior center Mike Muscala in the post, holding Muscala to 1-of-9 shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
The first half was summed up well in a two-minute break starting with just over five minutes to play in the first.
Bulldogs’ sophomore forward Kameron Woods was blocked on a dunk attempt, but Jones was on the spot to pick up the loose ball and hit for two.
On the very next play Smith soared above Muscala to grab a defensive rebound.
Two possessions later Butler sophomore guard Alex Barlow stole the ball and scored on the breakaway layup to put the Bulldogs up, 19-12.
Jones went into the locker room with nine points while his 6-foot-11 teammate Smith had nine rebounds.
Bison forward Joe Willman’s — one of only three Bucknell players to score in the half — kept the Bison in touching distance with eight first half points.
Butler stretched out their lead to 10 early in the second half before the Bison offense exploded.
Muscala and Willman began to wiggle free from their defenders to spark a 19-2 run that lifted the 11-seed Bison into a 37-31 lead with 9:55 remaining.
After opening 0-of-13 from behind the arc, Butler hit back-to-back threes to help them get back in front, 43-40.
“We knew that they were gonna make a run,” Smith said. “We were preparing for something like that and fortunately we were able to fight back.”
A jumper from Willman narrowed the lead to one, before Bucknell’s first half shooting woes returned.
Shots began to rattle the rim and bounce clear in a 0-of-7 stretch from the field enabled Butler to restore their double digit lead with 2:38 to play.
“I told them in the locker room, there’s a lot of teams in this tournament that wouldnt be able to withstand a 16 point swing, and then have a 16 point swing of their own,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “I’m proud of the way (we) played.”
The Bulldogs closed out the final minutes to earn the 68-56 win.
Willman led all scorers with 20 points as Muscala finished one point shy of a double-double with 9 points and ten rebounds in the loss.
Senior guard Rontei Clarke’s 17 points top scored for Butler, with Jones finishing on 14 points.
Butler will play either of 3-seed Marquette and 14-seed Davison in round three.