Sophomore Jayden Taylor led all scorers with 18 points in the 71-45 loss to Tennessee on November 23. Photo by Claire Runkel.
KOBE MOSLEY | MANAGING DIRECTOR EDITOR | [email protected]
After a good start in the first half, Butler was unable to keep up with Tennessee, falling 71-45 in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Sophomore Jayden Taylor bore much of the offensive burden for the Bulldogs, leading all scorers by 18 points and continuing his hot shooting in the last three games. Graduate Eric Hunter Jr – who played 36 minutes – added eight points. Off the bench, Pierce Thomas contributed five points and three steals in the redshirt’s first year.
The Volunteers shot 53% from the field in the second half after shooting just 41% in the first half. Tennessee also played without its top scorer, senior Josiah-Jordan James. Senior Santiago Vescovi led the Vols with 13 points. First-years Julian Phillips and sophomore Zakai Zeigler were also in double digits, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Let’s go beyond the box score to unpack Butler’s toughest early-season loss.
Foul problems and turnovers
For the second time this season, graduate Manny Bates was sidelined for an extended period in the first half due to foul problems. Bates played just five minutes before earning his second foul. Junior guard Chuck Harris played 10 minutes before ending the rest of the half with two fouls. With second guard Simas Lukosius struggling to keep the ball, head coach Thad Matta was forced to use Hunter Jr. and his reserves far more than he wanted in the first half. This allowed Tennessee to come back and take the lead before halftime without looking back.
Lukosius – who finished the game with more turnovers than points – wasn’t the only one struggling to give Tennessee extra possession. Everyone but freshman Connor Turnbull – who played four minutes in garbage time – had at least one turnover, and four players had more than two turnovers. 23 turnovers resulting in 18 points less turnovers for Tennessee isn’t ideal when trying to go up against a ranked opponent.
Too often the Bulldogs couldn’t find a basket while the volunteers ran. Butler failed to score in the final 3:44 of the first half while Tennessee went five with a 10-0 run at halftime.
The second half wasn’t going to get any better as the Dawgs were outplayed 43-22 in the second half. A 17-1 run by Tennessee gave them an 18-point lead with 9:05 to go, and Butler couldn’t get anything going long enough on either side to get a run going.
Much of Butler’s offensive inefficiency can be attributed without question to the length and agility of Tennessee’s defense. Matta also attributed the lack of attacking to a lack of team identity.
“I think we’re mentally exhausted,” Matta said. “And that can’t happen. We will continue to expand our mentality. We need to keep building our identity and I thought tonight we took a step back in that regard. We were beaten and unwilling to fight back at the level we needed to fight back.
On to game number two
Game two of Butler’s three games in the Bahamas will be against the BYU Cougars on Thanksgiving Day. BYU also lost their matchup in the opening round, falling to USC 82-76. The Cougars enter with a similar 3-2 record and have four players averaging 10+ points per game.