Had a fadeaway three-pointer from Kellen Dunham fallen with five seconds left in overtime, the Butler Bulldogs may have picked up their first win as a member of the Big East Conference.
With an evenly-matched Xavier next on the schedule, Dunham may have a second chance at becoming an overtime hero.
Xavier (11-3, 1-0 in Big East Conference play) will host Butler (10-3, 0-1 in Big East Conference play) on Saturday at 2 p.m. in hopes of winning its seventh consecutive game, while Butler is hoping to bounce back from its heartbreaking overtime loss against No. 11 Villanova.
The Musketeers have picked up victories against Cincinnati, Alabama and St. John’s during their six-game winning streak, and are rolling on all cylinders heading into their two-game homestand against Butler and Marquette. Semaj Christon has been instrumental to Xavier’s success, averaging a team-high 14.4 points to go with 4.2 assists per game. Matt Stainbrook has been a reliable option for the Musketeers down low, chipping in 11 points while pulling down 8.6 boards per contest, third-most in the Big East.
Two of Butler’s three losses have come in overtime, and the Bulldogs have not lost a game by more than three points. Had a few shots fallen their way, the Bulldogs could easily be 13-0 and ranked in the top-10 nationally. The team can get back on track Saturday, and it will need a substantial effort from its two stars — Dunham and Khyle Marshall.
Dunham comes into the matchup averaging 18.4 points per game on a 41.7 field goal percentage. The sophomore is lethal from downtown, averaging 42.5 percent from long range. On the off chance he misses, he has the Big East’s top rebounder under the rim for any cleanup work in Kameron Woods. Woods, a 6-foot-9 junior, is pulling down a league-best 9.5 rebounds to go with 9.3 points per game.
Marshall is a big part of Butler’s offense, scoring 16 points per game on an efficient 56.9 field-goal percentage. The senior also contributes on the glass, pulling down 6.4 rebounds per contest.
Even with its great depth, the Bulldogs have their work cut out for them against one of the conference’s stingiest defenses. The Musketeers limited the 12-2 Cincinnati Bearcats to just 47 points and stopped six other teams from eclipsing the 60-point mark. If it wants to have success against Xavier’s lockdown defense, Butler needs to maintain a balanced attack from both inside and outside. When teams get one-dimensional, Xavier shuts them down. Dunham will have to stay hot from outside while Marshall needs to be strong in the lane and attack the basket.
The Bulldogs have the talent to pick up their first conference win, but they will need to have a near-perfect game to earn it against a tough, physical Xavier team playing in front of its home crowd.