East Rutherford (NJ) – Once again Butler (4-3) let Duke (8-0) off the hook late in a tight game. The Blue Devils used a 9-0 run midway through the 2nd half to defeat the Bulldogs once again 82-70.
Nolan Smith led Duke with 24 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field. However the career 78% FT shooter was 13-of-14 from the free throw line.
The entire Duke team shot well from the free-throw line and that was the difference. Duke was 24-of-29 (82.8%) from the free-throw line, while Butler was just 10-of-20 (50%).
From the start, Butler played suffocating defense. They were frustrating the Blue Devils and looked just like they did during the National Championship game last season.
Ronald Nored returned from missing two games due to concussion symptoms to have a great defensive game. Nored, who failed to score on Saturday afternoon, stabilized the Butler offense and distributed the ball well.
More than the Butler defense was just like last season. Matt Howard once again got in foul trouble during the first half. Howard played just eight minutes in the first half.
The Bulldogs overcame Howard’s foul troubles in the first half and had their most complete half of the season, and lead by as many as five points.
The teams went into the break deadlocked at 33-33.
Early in the 2nd half it was more of the same. Butler was outworking Duke on both ends of the floor and was controlling the tempo of the game.
Then tragedy struck once again. Shelvin Mack scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting and had six rebounds and five assists in just 21 minutes. Mack was hit on a 3-point attempt and landed awkwardly midway through the 2nd half. The awkward landing caused Mack to have cramping in his legs. It was similar to the Louisville game when he had cramps and couldn’t return. He didn’t return against Duke either.
Without Mack, Butler’s offense became less threatening and Duke could relax on defense. It translated to more offensive fireworks. Duke went on a 9-0 run right after Mack left the game and stretched the lead to 10.
Butler would cut the lead to 60-57 with 7 minutes remaining on the shot-making of Shawn Vanzant, who had a team-high 14 points in 28 minutes, but that was the closest they would get.
Duke hit 11 of their final 14 free throws, which gave Butler little opportunity to make up ground late.
Howard ended up playing just 24 minutes in the entire game and finished with 13 points and three rebounds. He fouled out late in the 2nd half.
Howard wasn’t the only one in foul trouble. Zach Hahn fouled out of the game as well, and finished with just three points.
Duke’s phenomenal freshman Kyrie Irving was shutdown for much of the day by Nored. He finished with a quiet 21 points and had five turnovers. He did hit two big 3-pointers during Duke’s 9-0 run to seize the lead for good.
Duke struggled from the 3-point line all game long. They shot just 8-of-26 (30.8%) from 3-point range and 25-of-53 (47.2%) from the field overall. Butler was outstanding from 3-point range shooting 8-of-15 (53.3%) and 26-of-58 (44.8%) overall.
Sophomore Andrew Smith had a great game inside for the Bulldogs. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds, while Garrett Butcher also filled in nicely for the foul-plagued Howard. He hit a few big shots and finished with seven points.
Senior superstar Kyle Singer had a rough day for Duke. He also had foul trouble and finished with 13 points in 29 minutes.
This was Duke’s 12th straight win at the Izod Center. Duke is 19-1 all-time in the Izod Center under Krzyzewski.
The win gave Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski his 876th career win, tied for 3rd all-time with Adolph Rupp.
Butler is now 4-3 and heads to Xavier (5-2) next Thursday in another difficult road test. The game will be televised on ESPN at 9 PM EST.