Three things to know: Butler knocks Purdue from ranks of the unbeaten

No. 8 Purdue is undefeated no more.

No. 17 Butler knocked the Boilermakers from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 74-68 win in the Crossroads Classic. The Bulldogs largely controlled the entire second half until a furious rally from Purdue brought it within three points with only 30 seconds remaining following a pair of Caleb Swanigan 3s. However, the Bulldogs were able to hold off Purdue with a pair of solid defensive possessions late, including a steal from Tyler Wideman to ice the game.

Here are three things to know about this big win for Butler, which now leaves seven teams around the country unbeaten.

1. Strangely, defense was the story of the game for Butler

Coming in, the Bulldogs were No. 6 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 136 in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. However, it was the defense that led the way against its in-state rival. The Bulldogs overall mobility compared to the Boilermakers made it seem like they were out-working their opponent all day. That mobility and activity level caused Purdue all sorts of problems getting in and out of offensive sets, as the Boilermakers had a 22-minute stretch from midway through the first half to midway through the second half where they only scored 16 points.

If the Bulldogs can play like this defensively on a consistent basis, they’re going to have a chance to win the Big East. The offense is among the nation’s elite, and they had a pretty legitimate mismatch here that the Boilermakers should have been able to exploit here on the other end. Coach Chris Holtmann deserves a lot of credit for devising a defensive scheme that heavily put pressure on Purdue’s ball-handlers and didn’t allow them to get the ball inside as often as they would have liked.

2. Even stranger yet, Butler was able to get this win despite Kellen Dunham’s worst game in a Butler uniform

Dunham went 0 for 12 from the field for only two points, and had a really, really bad turnover by stepping on the baseline late that gave Purdue the ball back with a chance to tie. Just nothing good worth saying about this one from his perspective, as Rapheal Davis was basically glued to his hip for a majority of the contest.

But in the end, it didn’t matter. Instead, it was the combination of Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz who led the way. Jones had 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, using his array of awkward crossovers and floaters to get the Purdue defense — particularly its big men — off balance. Chrabascz proved to be a bit too mobile for the Boilermaker bigs inside, scoring 16 points and dishing out three assists.

It’s really remarkable that Butler was able to pull out a win against a top-10 team with that kind of game from Dunham. The Bulldogs aren’t going to be able to win many games when they get absolutely nothing from their best scorer, so again they deserve a lot of credit for being able to make it happen anyway.

3. Many of the questions people had about Purdue reared their heads

During the 11-0 start for Purdue, many questioned what would happen when they went up against an elite backcourt. Well, this game didn’t do a particularly good job of coming up with the answers that Boilermakers’ fans wanted. Tyler Lewis controlled the tempo of this one from the outset. He was able to distribute the ball where he wanted, and also got into the lane rather easily off of ball screens despite his lack of size. Lewis had 17 points and four assists as he outplayed both Johnny Hill and P.J. Thompson.

A lot of Purdue’s problems today stemmed from the fact that they really couldn’t get the ball inside consistently. Swanigan finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, but he often caught the ball 15 feet from the hoop or further and then was forced to create something for himself. That resulted in seven turnovers for the big man who is probably best off at this point as a pure post or as a catch-and-shoot big man.

To reach their potential, Purdue is going to have to find a way to make plays off the dribble. Today, the ball pressure that Butler placed on their guards was just too much to handle, and the Boilermakers couldn’t blow by them to get into the lane to keep them honest. That was problematic in two ways. First, they couldn’t get Butler into rotation for open 3s off of kickouts. And second, they couldn’t get the defense out of their grill to create better passing lanes for entry passes to the post players. When that happens, it’s hard for Purdue, particularly, to get what they want out of their offensive sets.

We know the Purdue defense is really good, and it could lead it to a Final Four. But to get there, it’s going to need a bit more explosiveness from the offense when they go up against a team playing well on both ends of the floor.

Purdue's unbeaten run is no more. (USATSI)
Purdue’s unbeaten run is no more. (USATSI)

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