INDIANAPOLIS – Duquesne coach Jim Ferry got a glimpse into his future plans Tuesday night.
He watched No. 15 Butler play lockdown defense, rely on balanced scoring and win going away. If the Dukes can follow that recipe, they might start winning again.
It just couldn’t happen soon enough to avoid this defeat. Rotnei Clarke scored 16 points, Khyle Marshall had 14 and Andrew Smith just missed a double-double as the Bulldogs pulled away for an easy 68-49 romp over the reeling Dukes.
“I thought we played extremely hard tonight, but I thought we were significantly out-talented,” Ferry said. “That’s one of the best defensive teams I’ve seen in a long time. They’re extremely disciplined and when they’re so balanced offensively, that’s a really tough game to win, especially here.”
It’s already been a long season for the Dukes (8-18, 1-11 Atlantic 10), who have won only two road games — at Appalachian State and at Temple — and have now dropped 15 of their last 17.
Derrick Colter scored 11 points and was the only Dukes player to reach double figures in their latest loss. Jerry Jones, who had nine points and four baskets, and Kadeem Panthophlet and Sean Johnson, who each had seven points and three baskets, were the only other Duquesne players with more than two field goals.
Nobody had more than five rebounds, three assists. The Dukes shot just 37.3 percent from the field and were 5 of 21 on 3-pointers and finished with their third-lowest point total of the season.
“They force you out, they contest shots and you don’t get a sniff of an offensive rebound,” Ferry said.
The Bulldogs (22-5, 9-3 Atlantic 10) needed a game like this after dealing with so many close calls — and so many injuries — over the past month.
Clarke went down in a frightening collision with the basket support at Dayton on Jan. 12. The Bulldogs rallied without their leading scorer, beating the Flyers and winning two of the next three games Clarke missed. He’s been scoring nearly 20 points per game since returning and against Duquesne, he managed to score eight second-half points despite taking only two shots over the final 20 minutes.
On Feb. 6 at St. Bonaventure, Jones, who beat Gonzaga with a late steal and a buzzer-beating floater, went down with a shoulder injury. He’s been wearing a brace ever since and had posted three straight double-figure games heading into Tuesday. He didn’t hit that number against the Dukes, but he still finished with good numbers: Six points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Last week, the Bulldogs lost their only home game of the season with Smith on the bench with an abdominal injury. On Tuesday, he was back to his old self, scoring eight points, grabbing 10 rebounds and delivering assists on Butler’s first two baskets.
And now that Butler has everybody reasonably healthy heading into the season’s final stretch, the defense has becoming almost impenetrable, too.
“I thought our guys were ready, I thought our guys played hard and I thought our guys played well,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Our guys really locked in defensively and I thought we played at a much better pace.”
For the Bulldogs, it wasn’t a perfect night by any stretch.
Without their usually crisp passing early, Butler’s shooters struggled.
But when they warmed up, Duquesne (8-18, 1-11) never had a chance.
Butler has now won five of its last six, improved to 13-1 at home and managed to keep pace with Virginia Commonwealth and St. Louis, the two teams ahead of it in the regular-season race. The victory margin matched the Bulldogs’ second-largest of the season, behind only the 32-point win it had over crosstown rival IUPUI.
“I think collectively, we’re guarding better now,” Marshall said. “We held another great 3-point shooting team to 49 points, so that’s great.”
At first, it didn’t look like it would be this easy.
But the Bulldogs turned a 15-12 lead into a 20-12 advantage when Clarke hit a 3-pointer and followed that with a 15-foot floater. Kellen Dunham scored the next eight for Butler, six coming on a pair of 3-pointers, and the lead increased to 28-17. Alex Barlow and Smith followed that barrage with two more 3s in the final 98 seconds of the first half, sending Butler to the locker room with a 36-22 lead.
That was all Butler needed to turn this game into a rout.
Marshall opened the second half by scoring nine points in Butler’s 13-7 run, which pushed the lead to 49-29, and Duquesne never got closer than 15 the rest of the way.
“Everybody’s healthy, everybody’s playing and that’s good,” said Steven, whose 161st career win tied North Carolina State’s Everett Case for the second-most victories by a coach in his first six seasons. “I think we did a pretty good job thru the injuries and what I prefer to call the curveballs. ... I’m proud of what this team has accomplished up to this point, but by no means are we satisfied.”