It’s taken two seasons and a total of 67 games, but junior center Keith Butler may finally have started his transformation into the dependable post presence the men’s basketball team needs.
Butler recorded season highs with seven points and 10 rebounds in the Owls’ 53-52 win over Villanova at the Big 5 Classic on Saturday. He did not miss a field goal attempt and blocked a shot against a Wildcats front line that featured four players standing 6-foot-7 and taller.
“Keith was huge,” junior guard Mardy Collins said. “Just him being out there gives us a bigger presence down there. I think he made some great blocks. The refs called fouls, but just his presence in there gave us a chance. We still got out-rebounded, but we didn’t get out-rebounded as bad.”
Butler fouled out and left to a standing ovation with 1:44 remaining and the score tied, 50-50. The Owls then turned to the perimeter players. Two possessions later, Collins was double teamed and found an open Dustin Salisbery on the wing. The sophomore guard, who missed the potential game-tying three-pointer against Arizona State, nailed the bucket to give the Owls a 53-50 lead with 1:07 to play.
The Wildcats scrounged for two points on free throws by junior forward Curtis Sumpter, but his three-point attempt at the buzzer clanged wide right.
Afterward, the Owls (2-3) said they were happy to get a win in the boisterous Palestra.
“People come here expecting something to happen that’s exciting,” coach John Chaney said. “People come to this place because it has a history, and it is legendary in terms of what has happened here. Al McGuire used to call them white-knucklers. That’s all you see in this place.”
Part of the Owls’ difficulty on the boards is attributable to sophomore forward Wayne Marshall’s depleting productivity on the glass. Since pulling down nine rebounds in the season opener, Marshall’s rebound total has declined and hit a new low Saturday. He managed just two rebounds against the Wildcats, who outrebounded the Owls, 45-35.
Freshman guard Mark Tyndale also struggled for the fourth straight game. Tyndale shot 4-of-13 from the field, dropping his season field goal percentage to 28.6 percent.
“[Marshall’s] going to be alright later, but right now I’m suffering with him,” Chaney said. “He and Tyndale, they’re both guys that are first-year players. They’ve got talent, but it’s going to take a while.”
Collins said the Owls’ previous close losses helped them mentally in pulling out the win over Villanova.
“That’s what [Chaney] is trying to do by us playing this tough schedule, to prepare us for tough games down the road,” said Collins, who had 11 points and six assists against the Wildcats. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to get better each and every game and finish them off.”
The Owls have now played three games decided by three points or less, the most by any team in Atlantic Ten Conference.
The Owls return home tomorrow to take on Penn, which beat La Salle in the early game Saturday to improve to 4-3.
Chaney said the defense will focus on stopping senior guard Tim Begley, who averages 14.8 points and 4.4 assists per game. The Quakers captain has also hit almost half of his three-point attempts (48.4 percent).
“He was shooting his ass off [against La Salle], wasn’t he?” Chaney said. “We’re going to put two guys on him. And if I can get out there with a uniform, I’m going to play his ass, too.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.