Butler closed out the regular season in fashion.
The No. 24 Bulldogs now look to add another memorable ending in the Big East Tournament. Butler, the No. 5 seed, opens the conference tourney against No. 4 seed Providence in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon in New York City.
Senior guard Kamar Baldwin poured in a career-high 36 points, highlighted by draining a 3-pointer from the wing with 1.2 seconds left, to lift the Bulldogs to a 72-71 win at Xavier on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs (22-9) and Friars enter the tourney as two of the conference’s hottest teams. Butler own a three-game winning streak, while the Friars (19-12) set a program record for most Big East wins in a season with 12 and won their final six games on the regular season — including wins against three ranked teams.
“Heck of a win. Heck of a game,” said Butler coach LaVall Jordan said following the Xavier victory. “I can’t imagine what New York will be like with all the teams playing this well right now. We knew there would be a lot of energy in the building with their Senior Night. And we knew it would be a fight. I told them to keep battling. It came down to us having the ball last and No. 3 [Baldwin] hit a shot like he’s done before.”
The neutral-site game between the Bulldogs and Friars is an ideal way to decide the season series winner. Last season, Providence defeated the Bulldogs three times, but that streak ended in the first meeting between the two teams this season.
“It’s win and advance or lose and go home,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said, “so our guys will be playing with a sense of desperation, just as Butler will.”
Baldwin and Jordan Tucker both scored 17 points in Butler’s 70-58 road win over Providence on Jan. 10. At the time, the Bulldogs were 15-1 and had won all three of their conference games.
In their second meeting, the Friars avenged their loss to even up the season series with a 65-61 win in Indianapolis on Feb. 1. Luwane Pipkins scored 22 points off the bench, including hitting six free throws in the final 27 seconds, to seal the win. But the Bulldogs played without starting point guard Aaron Thompson and made just one of their 14 3-point attempts.
“We didn’t shoot it well, but Providence had a lot to do with that. They made it really tough to get our guys open,” Jordan said after the game. “We let Pipkins get loose for too many looks, and he made us pay. This is life in the Big East. You’re across from a good team every night.”
Baldwin, an All-Big East First-Team selection, enters the game averaging 16.2 points and 3.3 assists. Providence senior guard Alpha Diallo was a second-team honoree.
The Friars received some good news in Saturday’s win over DePaul, when guard Maliek White returned to the floor after dealing with a foot injury. Cooley said the Bulldogs are a deeper squad with a healthy Thompson.
“They’re a totally different team with Thompson,” Cooley said. “When Kamar Baldwin is on the ball he’s not as aggressive as he is off the ball. He’s very dangerous and is allowed to roam free with Thompson.”
–Field Level Media