INDIANAPOLIS — It is becoming obvious that the Butler Bulldogs found their place in the Big East Conference, making the jump from the Atlantic-10 Conference two years ago after switching from the Horizon League to the A10 three years ago.
The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs shot 56.4 percent from the field (31 of 55) and pulled away from the St. John’s Red Storm 85-62 on Tuesday might in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Butler began the game on an 8-0 run, and the Bulldogs began the second half with a 14-2 burst, laying the foundation for their fourth consecutive conference victory.
Bulldogs guard Kellen Dunham scored 13 of his 21 points during the second half’s first 6:44, including a five-point play when he was fouled in the act of shooting a 3-pointer and a technical foul was called on St. John’s forward Sir’Dominic Pointer.
“That is one thing we really emphasize, kind of coming out to start the second half and kind of punching them in the mouth,” said Dunham, who made five consecutive free throws, giving Butler a 50-30 lead. “We took it upon ourselves to come out strong to begin the second half and come away with the win.”
Butler’s starters were a collective 25 of 43 from the field in a game that included an ejection and two other player technical fouls.
“It was certainly a strange game in a lot of ways,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “For St. John’s it was a difficult one for them, and then there was (the ejection) of Chris Obekpa, so they were short-handed. In some ways, we did not see them at their best, but having said that, I was impressed, for the most part, with our guys’ poise in a game that was choppy.”
Butler (17-6, 7-3) has a Big East winning streak that includes a two-game season sweep of the Red Storm, who did not arrive in Indianapolis until 5 a.m. Tuesday because of weather conditions in New York City.
Using pressure defense, St. John’s (14-8, 3-6) trimmed the deficit to 65-57 with 7:37 to play, but Butler took a 70-59 lead on two Dunham free throws with 6:21 to go.
A 3-pointer from point guard Alex Barlow extended Butler’s advantage to 74-62 with 4:43 remaining.
“After they cut into our lead, I think we handled it well,” Barlow said. “In any game, there are going to be ups and downs. They made a little run, but we trusted in everything that we have done to prepare for this moment. We kept plugging away, and eventually, we were able to pull away.”
St. John’s is now 2-8 when allowing 70 points or more. Pointer led the Red Storm with 19, and guard Rysheed Jordan scored 17. Barlow added 15 for Butler, forward Andrew Chrabascz had 14 and guard Roosevelt Jones 13.
Butler shot 56.4 percent from the field for the game, while St. John’s shot 37.3 percent. The Bulldogs outrebounds the Red Storm 40-28, with Butler forward Kameron Woods grabbing a game-high 12 boards.
“We were impressed with how cohesive Butler was and how they were able to sustain their effort,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “We were disappointed with our poise and with our composure in a tough environment of Hinkle Fieldhouse against a good team. We did not answer the bell.
“Once we lose our poise and composure against a team like Butler that is experienced and mature, it was a buzz saw. You cannot afford to be down like that.”
Pointer said St. John’s defense — or lack thereof — cost it any hope of coming back.
“They are a good team that hits tough shots, but we have them a lot of uncontested shots and a lot of easy looks,” Pointer said. “They got a lot of layups.”
Jones scored 10 first-half points, leading Butler to a 36-28 halftime lead.
Butler led 10-2 as St. John’s made only one of its first seven field-goal attempts.
With 8:26 left in the first half, St. John’s forward Obekpa was ejected for a flagrant-2 foul after elbowing Butler freshman forward Tyler Wideman in the head. Butler scored four points as a result of that foul and led 19-9.
Pointer led the Red Storm with 10 first-half points.
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