No. 17 Butler out to prove point vs. Purdue

NCAA Basketball
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For Butler, the Crossroads Classic in downtown Indianapolis has always been an opportunity to show what it’s capable of against a Big Ten heavyweight.

The 17th-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) will get a chance to notch another quality nonconference win before Big East play begins when it faces Purdue in the second game of the doubleheader event on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (2:30 p.m. ET).

Butler has knocked off Minnesota, Ole Miss, Florida and Missouri in winning 10 of its first 11 games. The Bulldogs’ lone loss this season came at No. 10 Baylor, 53-52, on Dec. 10. But Butler rebounded from its first loss of the season with a convincing 66-41 win over Southern last Saturday.

Senior guard Kamar Baldwin has led Butler’s strong start to the season, averaging 15.7 points per game while shooting 35.6 percent from 3-point range. As a team, Butler is shooting 36.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Baldwin is one of three Butler players averaging double figures in scoring this season, along with senior forward Sean McDermott (11.5 ppg) and redshirt junior forward Bryce Nze (10.5)

“Nobody cares who scores,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan told reporters. “We talk about moving the basketball and hitting the open man. They look for each other, share the ball and stay connected.”

Butler also is hoping for an added boost with the return of graduate transfer 7-foot-1 center Derrik Smits, who had two points and three rebounds in his season debut against Southern. Smits, a transfer from Valparaiso, is the son of former Indianapolis Pacers center Rik Smits. He sat out Butler’s first 10 games due to a knee injury.

“I feel pretty good, but I’m not back to where I was prior (to the injuries),” Smits said following the Southern game. “I just got to keep working. The more practices I’ve had, the better I’ve felt.”

Purdue (7-4) bounced back from a road loss at Nebraska with a 69-51 win at Ohio on Tuesday night. Sophomore point guard Eric Hunter Jr. scored a career-high 18 points in the win while sophomore center Trevion Williams, starting in place of injured center Matt Haarms, had 14 points and three assists. The 7-foot-3 Haarms suffered a concussion against Nebraska and remains questionable for Butler.

Junior forward Nojel Eastern, who has struggled early this season and was taken out of the starting lineup, also had a strong game for the Boilermakers against Ohio with a season-high 11 points and five rebounds.

“It was very important, no matter if it’s Michigan State or Ohio,” Eastern said of the road win. “We need to play every game like it’s a Final Four game. That’s what we need to as a team, just coming out, having that poise, having that hunger for every game.”

The Boilermakers have held all 11 opponents to 70 points or less this season and are 7-0 when holding opponents to 59 or fewer points. Purdue leads the Big Ten in scoring defense, giving up 55.8 points per game, a point more than Butler allows.

–Field Level Media

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