When it is early in the game, the Buckeyes rely on Butler to get them going. In the middle of the game … well, you get the idea.
The senior guard from Lima, Ohio, has emerged as the go-to threat for the 2007-08 OSU men's basketball team. Through the first 17 games of the season, Butler is averaging a team-best 15.1 points per game. He is shooting an even 44 percent from the floor and has connected on 44.8 percent of his three pointers, the best mark on the team.
In addition, his 2.79 assist-to-turnover ratio leads the team among players who have seen action in more than half the team's games. In short, he has been the team's leader handling the ball, passing the ball and shooting the ball as well.
But one man can only do so much, as was shown in OSU's 66-60 road loss to Michigan State on Tuesday night. With the Buckeyes mounting a second-half comeback in an attempt to wipe out a 21-point deficit, it became apparent they had one primary option: Butler.
He responded with a game-high 21 points and scored OSU's final 14 points of the game. Afterward, he was asked if he could use some help from his teammates in putting the ball in the basket.
"I would say I do," he said with a laugh. "Not just in that situation – I need it from the beginning of the game all the way through the end. I need somebody to go with. That's what I'm searching for right now. Hopefully I find it."
The question is: Where is the scoring help going to come from? Several players have shown flashes of being able to contribute offensively, but none have put together a body of work consistent enough to emerge as a scoring threat complimentary to Butler.
Early on this season, it appeared freshman Kosta Koufos would be the answer. A 7-0 center who can step out and hit jumpers, Koufos wasted little time making an impact. He scored 10 or more points in his first five career games, twice scoring more than 20 points. Since then, he has scored fewer than 10 points in five games and has seen his scoring average dip from 18.6 per game after five games to 13.8 following the MSU game.
At times, Koufos has looked lost on the court as he has adjusted to the college game. Against MSU he was 2 of 7 from the floor for four points, tying a season-low.
Butler said he feels Koufos' confidence is waning.
"I think he is trying too hard," he said. "He gets down on himself easily, and when you do that it takes your confidence. I think his confidence level is low right now. I'm going to stay in his ear, keep playing and keep telling him to go at it. Kosta will be fine. It's a long season. He'll be alright."
From there, OSU has four players averaging between seven and ten points per game, any of whom is capable of emerging as a scoring threat on any given night. For some, like freshman guard Evan Turner and sophomore swingman David Lighty, the problem has been controlling the ball. The two are one-two in turnovers for the Buckeyes with 44 and 41, respectively.
In addition, senior forward Othello Hunter and freshman guard Jon Diebler simply have not proven themselves to be dependable on a game-by-game basis. Both have had breakout games – Hunter had 15 points in OSU's conference-opening win against Illinois and Diebler poured in 17 off the bench against Cleveland State – but neither has helped to lessen Butler's load.
Butler, on the other hand, has not seen his scoring average climb higher than 17 and lower than 14 per game. During OSU's victory against Illinois on Jan. 3, he scored a career-high 32 points and scored 15 straight for the Buckeyes at one point.
With Butler running the point, opposing defenses are working harder to ensure that Butler can not hurt them. Against MSU, the Spartans were hedging harder on ball screens, forcing him to dish the ball off to a teammate. The same was the case in OSU's 75-68 road loss to Purdue three days prior.
The result is a team with one player who can, at times, appear to score at will, while the other four players on the court can score from time to time.
"I've been saying it from day one: We need everybody on this team to play good for a consistent 40 minutes," head coach Thad Matta said. "Right now I think that's the biggest challenge we have. Everybody has shown they can do it in spurts. There has to be more of a consistency about our team."
If the Buckeyes do not find that consistency, Butler – who dropped 20 pounds in the offseason – could find himself dropping a whole lot more weight before his senior season is finished.