No. 11 Butler, coming off a 31-point win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday in its nonconference finale, will look to close the decade with a victory at St. John’s in the teams’ Big East Conference opener at Carnesecca Arena in New York on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (12-1) enter the New Year’s Eve game with a three-game winning streak, including a 67-36 rout of the visiting Warhawks.
Butler coach LaVall Jordan said the Bulldogs ended the nonconference portion of the season on a solid note.
“We had 17 assists on 27 field goals on a night that wasn’t our best offensive night,” he said. “I thought we shared the ball, played how we wanted to play and didn’t let the missed shots impact our defensive effort.
“We’ve talked a lot about finishing this first half of the season strong and then starting over 0-0 as everyone shifts to Big East play.”
The conference opener will be Butler’s first true road game since the Bulldogs fell 53-52 at then-No. 11 Baylor on Dec. 10.
The Bulldogs lead the all-time series against St. John’s 7-6.
Butler’s rise in the rankings can be attributed to strong defense and taking care of the ball. The Bulldogs also are shooting 48 percent from the field, tops among Big East teams.
Butler ranks fourth nationally by limiting opponents to an average of 53.6 points a game. This season, the Bulldogs have allowed only four teams to score at least 60 points in a game. Butler, meanwhile, is averaging just 10.4 turnovers a game to rank tied for sixth nationally with Liberty.
Butler senior guard Kamar Baldwin is averaging a team-high 13.9 points a game and scored a season-high 31 in a road win against Mississippi on Dec. 3. Senior center Derrik Smits scored 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field in 13 minutes on Saturday. He missed the first 10 games of the season because of a knee injury.
St. John’s (11-2) has exceeded expectations early this season, beating West Virginia and Arizona as part of a current seven-game winning streak. The Red Storm have notched home wins against the Bulldogs in each of the past three seasons, though the latest two went to overtime.
St. John’s is looking for its second straight win over a ranked team. LJ Figueroa scored 21 points and Rasheem Dunn 14 in a 70-67 win over then-No. 16 Arizona on Dec. 21.
Red Storm first-year coach Mike Anderson said he’s encouraged by how his team is coming together.
“I just think they’re listening, and you can see it,” he said. “They’re going out and they’re doing the things we asked them to do each and every day in practice. So it’s all about believing in one another. I think the confidence is growing. They played with such great energy, and they played unselfish.”
–Field Level Media