…Case in point why there’s no better early-season tournament than the Maui Invitational. Rotnei Clarke made his own case on behalf of all great snipers in America: Don’t ditch a slumping sharpshooter, especially one with ice water in his veins. There isn’t a more lethal 3-point threat in America than the hero of Monday’s game. Despite shooting 3 of 13 from behind the arc prior to launching his desperation, one-handed fall-away heave, Clarke buried the clincher.
The best game of the young season—fittingly the first in Maui—brought us this:
Final Score: Butler over Marquette, 72-71
Twitter-compatible recap: Defensive struggle at first, Butler timid inside. More cold shooting from Dogs, even at the line, but relentless D and a final prayer prevail
Player of the game: Khyle Marshall. Clarke will make the headlines, but Marshall was the story of this game. The senior forward scored 24 points (11-15 FG) and pulled down nine rebounds in the thrilling win. Marshall was the only player on the Butler roster—honorable mention to Roosevelt Jones—who willingly attacked the teeth of the Golden Eagles defense. The Bulldogs played timid all night, jacking up ill-advised perimeter shots and shying away from contact. The only reason Clarke had a shot to play hero: Khyle Marshall had the gall to step up.
Why Butler won: Let’s be honest, they didn’t deserve to. But they did. Why? Because of the man credited above, ruthless defense and dogged persistency at the end of the game. Erik Fromm’s tip-shot off a missed Clarke 3 with ten seconds to go didn’t seem like a big deal at the time—the Dogs, at the time, still trailed by one—but hustle plays like his were the story of the night for the Bulldogs. Butler made all the plays in crunch time to overcome a late deficit. When the Golden Eagles finally slipped up, the Bulldogs pounced on the sliver of opportunity.
Why Marquette lost: Davate Gardner foul trouble. Just when Gardner began establishing himself in the second half, the junior big man hit the bench with his fourth foul. The Bulldogs (i.e., Marshall) crept back into the game by attacking inside, doing most of that work with Gardner glued to the bench. Junior Cadougan’s late missed free throw certainly didn’t help, neither did 14 turnovers and poor outside shooting (4-14 from 3-point range). But the Golden Eagles needed more than 16 minutes out of their oft-injured, big man extraordinaire, and they didn’t get it.
Turning point of the game: Hard to disagree on a turning point in a game that was determined by the last shot. Give Clarke’s game-winning 3 the nod here. The honorable mention turning point goes to Khyle Marshall for setting his alarm correctly. His showing up to the game was the difference between an exhilirating Butler win and a 25-point loss.
What this means for Marquette: The Eagles get to face a terrible Mississippi State team Tuesday instead of North Carolina. More important to the long-term vitality of the team, Vander Blue may be ready for primetime. The light seems to have went off for the junior g uard, new leadership role and all. He’s shooting the ball more confidently and no longer plays second fiddle to DJO and Jae Crowder. His 21 points today, including big shots in the game’s waning minutes, should not go unnoticed.
What this means for Butler: The Bulldogs can win games against high-major competition in which they play soft and don’t shoot well. The last time Butler shot this poorly, it was run out of the building by a Xavier team with five new starters. If Brad Stevens’ team can win games in which his team shot 19-percent from long range and 56-percent from the free throw line, imagine how tough his team can be on nights when the shots are falling. Butler has a go-to guy in the clutch that can knock down a huge shot, even when his shot isn’t dropping for most of the night. But do the Dogs have a true point? That still hasn’t been settled.