BUTLER 88, CREIGHTON 75
INDIANAPOLIS — The Creighton team that rode a hot streak into Hinkle Field house spent much of Tuesday night stuck in the mud.
The Bluejays took a step back in an 88-75 loss to the Bulldogs that snapped their three-game winning streak. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Creighton's performance was its lack of fight on defense.
"We didn't come out with a whole bunch of energy," forward Cole Huff said. "That's disappointing in a game of this magnitude."
At this point in the season, both Creighton and Butler are battling to enhance their chances of making the NCAA tournament.
Butler bounced back from a Saturday loss to Xavier to get back to .500 in Big East play while picking up its 18th victory overall.
"I'm really proud of this effort," Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. "Our guys responded after a really bad showing on Saturday."
Meanwhile, Creighton couldn't equal the performances that produced victories over DePaul, Xavier and Marquette. The Bluejays came out flat offensively in the first half. They got things cranked up in the second half, but that's when their defense deserted them.
"If we could have gotten some stops," guard James Milliken said, "it might have been what we needed to go on a big run. Instead, we just couldn't get over the hump."
Butler, the Big East's most productive offensive club, hit Creighton with a balanced attack featuring five scorers in double figures.
Kelan Martin led the Bulldogs with 21 points, while Kellen Dunham had 16, Roosevelt Jones 12 and Tyler Wideman 10. Then there was a career effort turned in by senior forward Austin Etherington.
Averaging 2.4 points a game, Etherington torched the Bluejays for a career-high 17. He missed just one shot from the field and made four of Butler's season-high 13 3-point baskets.
"I'm really pleased for Austin," Holtmann said. "He's had really good energy off the bench for us these last few months. His leadership behind the scenes has been critical."
Etherington's playing time has yo-yoed throughout the season. The 17 minutes he played Tuesday were the most since he logged 26 in Butler's eight-point loss to Creighton on Jan. 23.
Etherington in that game made 1 of 4 shots and scored five points.
"If he would have played like he did tonight at our place, we would have lost," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "He was the difference in the game.
"He was really good, and he made it really difficult to figure out who we were going to try to help with around the basket."
Etherington made two of the biggest shots to provide Butler with some separation early in the second half. After shooting 30.8 percent in the first half and falling behind 36-29, the Bluejays scored on four of their first five possessions of the second half.
Dunham buried a 3-point shot before Isaiah Zierden countered with a basket from beyond the arc to pull Creighton with 41-37. Etherington then connected on 3-point shots on Butler's next two possessions to push the lead to 10 points.
"He hadn't been shooting it well, but we knew that was what his deal was," Huff said. "He's a catch and shoot guy. We had banked on leaving him open, but once he got going, he made things really difficult.
"When we tried to chase him off the 3-point line, he drove by us. He got a big dunk, and he got some of his teammates involved. He really stepped up big for them."
The dunk Huff referred to came about a minute after Creighton had trimmed that 10-point deficit to four. The dunk started the Bulldogs on a run that left them up 75-63 with 4:43 to play.
Creighton had not allowed more than 66 points in the three previous victories. The 88 points it allowed were a high for a conference game.
"Our rotations were late at times, and we blew some assignments," McDermott said. "More times than not, though, they made plays.
"They outplayed us. We played well enough offensively to win in the second half, but we certainly didn't play well enough defensively."
Creighton's 46 second-half points came on 51.7-percent shooting. Maurice Watson led the Bluejays with 22 points, with Milliken finishing with 15 and Zierden and Huff scoring 11 each.
"We just got kind of stagnant there that first half," Watson said. "Some of the things we did to win those three games we didn't do tonight.
"We picked it up a little in the second half, but we have to get back to work to fix some of the things we failed to do tonight."
"We didn't come out with a whole bunch of energy. That's disappointing in a game of this magnitude."
Creighton forward Cole Huff