GAME NOTES: A Thanksgiving matinee is on tap at HP Field House in Orlando, as the Butler Bulldogs tangle with the Washington State Cougars in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic.
Awaiting the winner in Friday's semifinals will be the survivor of the Purdue/Oklahoma State matchup. The losers will also play on Friday in the consolation round.
Butler has barely skipped a beat early in the season under first-year head coach Brandon Miller, as it has won each of its first four games for the first time since 2008. After claiming wins over Lamar (89-58), Princeton (70-67) and Vanderbilt (85-77 in OT) during a three-game homestand, the Bulldogs captured a thrilling 59-58 road victory over Ball State on Nov. 23.
Washington State's season got off to a great start with wins over Cal State Bakersfield (62-56) and Lamar (84-64), but they have dropped two in a row against nationally-ranked Gonzaga (90-74) and TCU (64-62) to dip to 2-2.
In the only previous meeting between these two clubs, Butler took down Washington State in the championship game of the 2010 Diamond Head Classic, 84-68.
In a game that featured seven ties and 11 lead changes, Butler was able to hold off Ball State for the one-point win after the Cardinals missed two shots and committed a turnover in the final minute. It was a disappointing shooting night across the board despite the win, as the Bulldogs shot just 35.5 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from 3-point range and 54.5 percent from the foul line. Kameron Wood tallied a double-double consisting of 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Khyle Marshall narrowly missed one with 14 points and nine boards. Elijah Brown came off the bench for 13 points, while Alex Barlow added 10 points and three steals. It was a rare poor performance for the Bulldogs, who are shooting greater than 45 percent from the field this season for 75.8 points per game. Both Kellen Dunham and Marshall score 15.8 points per game, while Woods (11.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg) is an imposing force in the paint on both ends.
The Cougars were also participants in a tight bout the last time out, although they fell on the wrong end after committing a foul in the waning seconds and seeing TCU drain the game-winning free throws. They did themselves in with poor field goal shooting (.365), but they did manage to drain an impressive 13 3-pointers. DaVonte Lacy was especially busy from beyond the arc (5-of-12) en route to a game-high 18 points. Royce Woolridge and Dexter Kernich-Drew scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, while D.J. Shelton contributed nine points and 11 rebounds. The first few weeks of the season have been a bit of an anomaly for WSU. Even though it gets outshot from the floor, 50 percent to 40.3 percent, it still scores more points (70.5 ppg) than it allows (68.5). A positive turnover margin (+2.3) and 25 free-throw attempts per game certainly helps it attain that feat. Lacy (20.3 ppg) is the club's unrivaled top scoring option, while Ike Iroegbu (11.8 ppg) shoots 51.7 percent from the floor coming off the bench.
Butler has come up big in events like this in the recent past, with its 2010 Diamond Head Classic championship, as well as a trip to the title game of last season's Maui Invitational, and even though the Bulldogs are under a new regime, they still appear to have the same overachieving way about them here in the early going. Expect their solid all-around game to be enough to dismiss the Cougars.
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