INDIANAPOLIS-It might not have been his team's best performance of the season, but with Christmas just around the corner, Mike Davis will take it.
Marco Killingsworth scored 16 of his game-high 27 points in the second half and Robert Vaden added 22 as 18th-ranked Indiana overcame a sluggish start and pulled away from Butler, 73-55, Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The win was Indiana's third straight, and gave Davis and Hoosier fans a rare Christmas gift – a win heading into the holidays. In four of Davis' first five years as Indiana's coach, Davis watched the Hoosiers drop the game immediately before Christmas. The first three times it was setbacks to Kentucky, while Charlotte's last-second halfcourt game-winner a year ago sent the team into the holiday break on a six-game skid and in the most foul of moods.
But there was no heartbreak for the Hoosiers this time around, which was a big relief to Davis.
"It's going to be a good Christmas, boys," Davis said afterwards.
While Indiana wound up winning comfortably, Butler battled throughout. The Hoosiers led by only three, 49-46, with 7:21 remaining, but a 7-0 Indiana run pushed the lead to ten with 4:22 remaining. Errek Suhr got the seven-point run started by driving the baseline and scoring on a reverse lay-up. Vaden then scored on a baseline jumper to push the lead to seven, and Killingsworth finished off the run with a conventional three-point play.
Butler would get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
"It wasn't like an (18-point win)," said Davis afterwards. "It was more like a four or five-point (game)."
While Killingsworth gave Butler fits in the post, it was Vaden who hit some of the game's biggest shots. He gave Indiana a 26-24 halftime lead when he knocked down a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, and wound up going 8-of-12 from the floor, including 4-of-4 from behind the 3-point arc.
"I thought Vaden had every bit shot," said Butler Coach Todd Lickliter. "A lot of those shots he hit were contested."
While Vaden's play gave Lickliter headaches, it was very much welcomed by Davis, who had been waiting for the sophomore to be more aggressive offensively.
"He was great tonight," said Davis. "Tonight was the first time I've seen him be aggressive the whole game."
Killingsworth, meanwhile, was 9-of-13 from the floor and an even-more-remarkable 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. A 54 percent free throw shooter heading into the game, Killingsworth missed his first charity toss before connecting on his final nine.
Davis said afterwards that he wanted his team to try to go inside at every opportunity, as Butler's frontline consisted of a pair of 6-6 players in Brandon Polk and Brandon Crone. While the Bulldog doing did plenty of damage offensively – Polk finished with 23 points and Crone added 11 – they were overmatched physically by Killingsworth.
"I didn't want us to take any 3s tonight because of their size," said Davis, whose team was 5-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc.
Davis also knew his team was going to have to play at a slower pace than they've been accustomed to since the season's outset. First of all, Butler has generally done a good job dictating tempo to its opponents and turning its games into halfcourt contest. In addition, Davis wanted to make sure his squad was taking the time to try to go inside and not squander opportunities with quick shots or turnovers.
"We aren't very good at taking care of the ball right now at that fast pace," said Davis, whose team entered the game averaging nearly 16 turnovers and had another 15 against Butler. "Until we can take care of the ball at that fast of a pace, we are going to stick to the inside game."
While Indiana looked to go inside, Butler couldn't answer with its perimeter-oriented attack. Butler was shooting 39 percent from behind the 3-point arc heading into the game, but wound up just 5-of-26 against Indiana. The starting backcourt trio of Bruce Horan, A.J. Graves and Avery Sheets combined to go just 3-of-18 from deep.
Davis credited the work of Assistant Head Coach Donnie Marsh for Indiana's defensive preparation and execution.
"We played with a lot of intensity," said Davis. "We are playing better, way better than ever before."
Killingsworth 9-13 9-10 27, Vaden 8-12 2-2 22, Ratliff 0-3 0-0 0, Strickland 2-3 0-0 5, Monroe 1-3 7-8 9, White 3-5 0-0 6, Wilmont 0-1 0-0 0, Suhr 1-1 0-0 2, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Calloway 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 25-44 18-20 73.
Polk 8-16 7-7 23, Crone 5-13 0-1 11, Horan 2-7 0-0 6, Graves 2-11 3-4 7, Sheets 1-5 0-0 3, Betko 2-2 0-0 5, Nellems 0-0 0-0 0, Ligon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-54 10-12 55.
Halftime Score: Indiana 26, Butler 24. 3-Pointers: Indiana 5-7 (Vaden 4-4, Strickland 1-1, Wilmont 0-1, Calloway 0-1), Butler 5-26 (Polk 0-1, Crone 1-6, Horan 2-6, Graves 0-7, Sheets 1-5, Betko 1-1). Rebounds: Indiana 35 (Vaden 7), Butler 17 (Crone 4). Assists: Indiana 11 (Vaden 3, Strickland 3), Butler 12 (Graves 5). Blocks: Indiana 2 (Killingsworth, Strickland), Butler 4 (Polk 3, Graves 1). Turnovers: Indiana 15 (Vaden 6), Butler 8 (Graves 2, Sheets 2). Steals: Indiana 4 (Vaden 3), Butler 7 (Graves 3). Attendance: 13,152.
Butler No Match For Indiana In Indy
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