No. 15 Houston will to continue an impressive start to its campaign when it battles Butler on Monday afternoon in a first-round game at the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas.
The winner of the first-ever meeting between the Cougars (3-0) and Bulldogs (3-1) will advance to face the Texas A&M-Wisconsin winner on Tuesday.
Houston heads to the desert after handling then-No. 25 Virginia 67-47 at home on Tuesday behind 19 points from Marcus Sasser, 18 by Kyler Edwards and a stifling defense that held the Cavaliers to 34.9 percent shooting from the floor and forced 17 turnovers.
“Our kids played hard — we executed, we were unselfish — but I did not learn that (against Virginia),” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after the win. “We’ve been pretty good at that. We did a good job tonight. We had a plan and we did a nice job of executing it.”
Houston never trailed in the win over Virginia, jumping out to a 14-2 lead and forging a 36-23 advantage at the half. Virginia never got closer than 11 points in the second half.
As well as Houston has played through its first three games, Sampson said the Cougars are still learning to play together.
“Those guys don’t really know who we are yet — they’re still learning,” Sampson explained. “The goal is to be better in December, January, and play our best basketball down the stretch.
Butler travels to Las Vegas on the heels of a 73-52 home loss to Michigan State on Wednesday. The Bulldogs shot just 28.6 percent from the floor and were limited to only eight assists by the Spartans’ defense in their worst home loss in 29 years.
Ty Groce scored a season-best 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the loss, with Chuck Harris adding 13 points. Butler never got closer than six points after the 18-minute mark of the second half.
The undersized Bulldogs took 30 of their 56 shots from beyond the arc and shied away from the paint. Butler coach LaVall Jordan said his team needs to attack the basket more.
“It’s not something that’s foreign to us, but we hadn’t seen it yet this season,” Jordan said after the loss. “Just being able to be disciplined when you get to the paint, have discipline guarding the post on the other end, and then on your block-outs. Those guys present different challenges, and it’s not gonna be the last one we see, so we’ll have to get better about having a plan for it.”
Butler played most of the Michigan State game without Bryce Nze, who exited early in the first half with a left shoulder injury and did not return. The school announced Thursday that an MRI revealed a partial labrum tear and said Nze will continue to be evaluated.
Nze, a sixth-year senior, is averaging 6.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists this season.
–Field Level Media