FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- When the 3-pointers stopped dropping,
Butler went to the foul line to finish off Florida Gulf Coast.
A.J. Graves scored 17 points and the Bulldogs (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP) made
14 of 15 free throws in the final 6:21 Saturday night to finally
take control and pull away to a 78-66 victory that was every bit as
difficult as coach Brad Stephens thought it might be.
Gulf Coast visited Butler last season and put up a good fight
before bowing, 79-65.
"I hated this game for a long time because I knew what was
coming," Stephens said. "These guys do a great job. ... They're
skilled, they're athletic. They don't play at home very often. It's
right before Christmas. So we knew it was going to be a heck of a
Both teams went to the foul line 28 times, but the difference
was Butler (11-1) made 26 while Gulf Coast (3-9) was only able to
convert 17 of its attempts, including one of four during a stretch
when the outcome still was in doubt.
Mike Green scored 16 points, and his 3-point play put the
Bulldogs up 63-60 with just over six minutes to go. Butler didn't
score from the field again until Drew Streicher dunked with 58
seconds remaining, then made six more free throws to put it away.
The Bulldogs were 8-of-22 from 3-point range, but didn't make
any shots from behind the arc in the final 13 minutes. Gulf Coast
offset the long-range production by going 7-for-16 to keep it
"It came down to the stretch, and they did a really good job of
getting to the free throw line in the last five minutes," Gulf
Coast coach Dave Balza said. "When a team makes 26 out of 28 free
throws -- and it took every last one of them for them run away with
it -- I think that's a pretty good effort."
Trailing 66-62, Gulf Coast saw its chances fade when Adam Liddell missed three of four free throws that could have put some
pressure on Butler, which overcame a nine-point first-half deficit
before struggling to finish off the pesky Eagles.
Graves, Butler's leading scorer, was just 3-of-8 from the field
but went 9-for-9 from the foul line.
Butler, which has early season victories over Michigan, Virginia
Tech, Texas Tech, Ohio State and Florida State after going 29-7 and
reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament last winter, has
won three straight after losing at Wright State on Dec. 8.
Playing its first home game in five weeks, Gulf Coast bolted to
an 11-2 lead before Butler methodically whittled the deficit. The
Bulldogs turned it around during a 15-4 run that put them ahead for
the first time with five minutes left in the half.
Betko and Zach Hahn began the surge with long 3-pointers and
Graves, scoreless for nearly 15 minutes, delivered a 3-point play
that finally pulled Butler even at 23-all. Green made a pair of
free throws to put Butler on top, but Gulf Coast weathered the
burst and it was 33-33 at the half.
Even when it looked like the Bulldogs might break it open early
in the second half, the Eagles stayed close by wiping out a 49-41
deficit and not allowing Butler to pull away for good until the
barrage of free throws at the end.
Gulf Coast hadn't played in its campus arena since losing to
Drexel in the home opener on Nov. 14. The Eagles shot 50 percent
from the field (21-of-42) and limited Butler to 45 percent
(22-of-49), while also doing a good job of protecting the ball
against one of the better defensive teams in the nation.
"They played us really tough last year, so we're not
surprised," Green said. "They executed their offense well, and we
just didn't make enough stops to keep them from keeping it close."