November 29, 2016 / 5:25 AM / a year ago

No. 18 Butler moves to 7-0 with win over Utah

No. 18 Butler moves to 7-0 with win over Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- Butler is not playing like a team predicted to finish in the middle of the Big East before the start of the season. The Bulldogs are tenacious on defense and efficient on offense.

It’s offered a perfect formula for making life miserable for high-profile Pac-12 teams.

Just like the Bulldogs did with Arizona, Butler found a way to flummox and bother Utah into making a flurry of turnovers and poor shots. It added up to a 68-59 victory for the No. 18 Bulldogs on Monday night. That’s exactly what head coach Chris Holtmann wants to see from his team game-to-game.

“If we’re going to have a successful year, we’re going to have to defend with purpose,” Holtmann said. “We turned it over a little too much offensively and we did not rebound defensively very well. Or offensively for that matter. Our guys really dug in and made them work in the half-court. They probably missed some shots that they’re normally going to make, but we made them play over the top for the most part.”

Butler (7-0) certainly defended with purpose over 40 minutes. The Bulldogs forced Utah to commit 18 turnovers and scored 23 points off those turnovers. The Utes (4-1) also struggled to get into any sustained offensive rhythm, shooting just 36.5 percent from the floor (19 of 52), including 15.0 percent (3 of 20) from 3-point range.

With Utah grasping at straws offensively, Butler only trailed once and sustained a double-digit lead for much of the second half.

“We had a lot of blatant turnovers we shouldn’t have had and that affected a lot of things that we did today,” junior forward Kyle Kuzma said. “We turned it over and then we dwelt on it a lot and it cost us.”

Kelan Martin scored 18 points and Tyler Wideman added 15 to help Butler finish 3-0 on its western road trip. Kuzma scored 21 points and collected 10 rebounds to lead Utah while Lorenzo Bonam added 17. The Utes fell to 1-2 all-time versus the Bulldogs.

Butler opened the game by forcing Utah turnovers on three straight possessions. Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson and Martin all scored baskets to help the Bulldogs jump out to a quick 7-0 lead.

It set the tone for the rest of the half. By halftime, Butler had collected eight steals and forced 10 turnovers. The Bulldogs held a 17-5 edge on points off turnovers.

“We knew that Butler wasn’t going to beat themselves and so we needed a number of things to line up for us to be competitive,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We knew they were good defensively. I just thought we really put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I don’t think I’ve been involved with a college basketball game (before now) where the other team scored 23 points off our turnovers. It’s damn near impossible to do.”

Utah didn’t go away quietly, but the Utes’ inability to take care of the ball or make shots hindered their comeback efforts. Still trailing 16-9, Utah went on a 11-3 run to take its first lead of the half. Bonam cut to the hoop, drew a foul and converted a 3-point play to tie the game. Kuzma then added a free throw to inch the Utes ahead 20-19.

Butler retook the lead when Kamar Baldwin stole a sloppy pass and took it in for a layup. The Bulldogs pushed their lead to 31-21 with 1:48 left before halftime on back-to-back baskets from Martin that capped a 12-0 run.

Utah went nearly seven minutes without a field goal late in the first half. Kuzma broke the drought on a tip-in basket that cut Butler’s lead to 33-25 with 1:02 remaining in the half.

“They were really physical inside,” Holtmann said. “I give Utah a lot of credit. Thought they had a great game plan mixing things up. That bothered us at time. They were physical inside. ... Our guys played with a lot of poise when they needed to. Guys weren’t perfect. We weren’t perfect. I didn’t coach perfect. But we found a way.”

Butler had little trouble padding its lead after halftime. The Bulldogs held Utah without a field goal for nearly four minutes while building up a double-digit cushion again. They ripped off a 9-0 run during that stretch, taking a 46-33 lead on back-to-back baskets from Tyler Lewis.

The Utes could not close the gap back to single digits again until Kuzma hit a pair of free throws to make it 65-57 with 1:37 remaining.

NOTES: Butler is now 22-0 under Chris Holtmann when shooting 50 percent or better from the field. The Bulldogs shot 52.8 percent (28 of 53) against Utah. ... Lorenzo Bonam scored in double figures for the fourth consecutive game. He’s averaging 15.8 points through five games this season. ... Utah fell to 15-16 all-time against current Big East teams while Butler improved to 13-11 against current Pac-12 schools.

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